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Crush It Challenge aims to shave energy costs

$5 million grand prize up for grabs

The Crush It Challenge hopes to deliver innovative alternatives to current, energy-intensive comminution technologies such as the ball mill above.

Finding alternatives to current energy intensive grinding technologies may be one of the most difficult challenges one can conceive of in the mining industry, but the incentive of a $5 million grand prize could be what’s needed to tip the scales in favour of a breakthrough.

Twelve finalists in National Resource Canada’s (NRCan) Crush It Challenge will present their ideas to a jury of experts at the Disrupt Mining event in Toronto March 3. Six of them will go home with $800,000 to help them develop their prototype and validate it over an 18-month period.

In December 2020, the six contestants will be required to deliver a technical report to demonstrate the energy savings made possible by applying their solution. The Crush It Challenge jury will then award one contestant the $5 million grand prize “to further develop their solution along the innovation path to pre-commercialization and, hopefully, adoption,” said Patrick Pearce, deputy director of the strategic policy division, Lands and Minerals Sector, Natural Resources Canada.

According to Daniel Thomson, senior policy analyst with NRCan’s Lands and Minerals Sector, “comminution accounts for up to 70 per cent of a mining operation’s energy consumption and has been consistently identified as the single most pressing innovation issue for the mining industry.”

The challenge to come up with an alternative technology also aligns with the Government of Canada’s priority to “create clean growth and transition to a low carbon economy.”

The Challenge’s aspirational goal is a 20 per cent saving in energy use, noted Thomson.

The Crush It Challenge comes under the umbrella of the government’s Impact Canada Initiative, funded in 2017 “to offer prizes, challenges and other innovative policy and program approaches to solve some of Canada’s biggest challenges.”

As part of the Impact Canada Initiative, NRCan is investing $75 million to fund five cleantech challenges. The Crush It Challenge, budgeted at $10 million, is the only one focused on the mining industry.

Current comminution technology, which includes ball mills, rod mills and SAG mills, have remained in use because of the risks associated with implementing innovative technologies, said Thomson.

“Mining engineering firms designing new mines prefer tested technologies over untested or experimental technologies.

You really do work with what you know and is proven, and much of the research in comminution has gone into achieving small, incremental improvements and not into major breakthroughs that can fundamentally change the cost structure of mining operations.”

The Crush It Challenge was launched October 30 in Sudbury by Natural Resources Minister Amerjeet Sohi. The deadline for receipt of applications was January 15.

The Challenge was open to companies of all sizes, as well as research centres, academics and individual innovators provided they are a registered Canadian entity or part of a consortium in which the lead applicant is a registered Canadian entity.

Small-scale innovators among the finalists were also eligible to apply for a $10,000 contribution to assist them in making their pitch to the Crush It Challenge jury at Disrupt Mining.

For more information, go to impact.canada.ca and disruptmining.com

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