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Innovation council crafts strategy

June 1, 2008
by Heidi Ulrichsen
In: Research with 0 Comments

About 10 years ago, the federal government in Australia made mining and other resource development research a national priority. Since then, the country has emerged as a leader in mining research.

“The Australians built on and strengthened some key public and private sector mechanisms to advance mining research and technology development,” said Stephen Lucas, assistant deputy minister of the mines and minerals sector at Natural Resources Canada.

“They established mechanisms such as collaborative research centres to advance research as well as teaching students.”

If Lucas gets his way, Canada will soon catch up to Australia in its capacity to engage in world-class mining research.

He is on the transition board of the Canadian Mining Innovation Council (CMIC), a newly-formed entity which would partly act as an umbrella organization for various mining research centres across the country.

The transition board for CMIC, which is made up of representatives of universities, mining research
organizations, governments and industry from across the country, includes three people with connections to Northern Ontario.

Included on the transition board are Parviz Farsangi, executive vice-president and chief operating officer of Vale Inco, Christine Kaszycki, assistant deputy minister for the mines and minerals division of the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines, and Peter Kaiser, director of the Sudbury-based Centre for Excellence in Mining Innovation (CEMI).

The origins of the council can be traced to discussions last year between stakeholders who were concerned about the state of mining research in the country, said Lucas.

A proposal to start CMIC was presented at a meeting of provincial and territorial mines ministers in September 2007.

The council’s transition board is currently engaged in a series of regional workshops, out of which a research and innovation strategy will soon be developed.

This research strategy will be presented to mines ministers at their next conference, scheduled to take place in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan in September 2008, Lucas said.

The CMIC will likely be ready to choose a permanent board of directors and start performing its role in late 2008 or early 2009. The council will be jointly supported by Natural Resources Canada and the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum (CIM), he said.

There are currently several mining research centres across the country, including CEMI in Sudbury, but they tend to operate in silos, said Lucas. This situation has resulted in many missed opportunities, he said.

“If the communication and generation of opportunities for collaboration between these centres is too low, then you run the risk of not having sufficient research capabilities or a critical mass to address some key problems.

There is potential for overlap and duplication of efforts.”

It’s true that mining supply and service companies already produce innovative new technology for mining operations, but with the help of increased government funding and a co-ordinated strategy, more and better technology could be developed, Lucas said.

“It’s not that the industry isn’t innovative and technologically advanced. But is Canada and industry capturing the full benefits of this present and future hunger for technology and process innovation in the sector?”

CEMI and Northern Ontario have a large part to play in the new council and will benefit from working in collaboration with other mining research centres, he said.

Alex Henderson, manager of business planning and mines technical services with Vale Inco’s Sudbury operations, said the council has been sorely needed for a long time.

“Canada has a good brand in terms of mining and mining innovation. But over the last 10 or 15 years, we’ve slipped relative to some of the other countries like Australia, Sweden or South Africa,” he said.

“A lot of it is that we’re very disjointed in our approach. We’re not as focused as we need to be.”

Canadian research centres should work together to decide which projects each centre should do, thus preventing duplicated work, he said. They should also share technology that has already been developed to further each other’s projects, said Henderson.

Vale Inco is especially interested in seeing researchers develop deep mining technology, Henderson said. In 2006, the company contributed $5 million to CEMI to push forward deep mining projects, along with other research initiatives.

Xstrata Nickel contributed $5 million to CEMI, and the provincial government $10 million. A contribution from the federal government has not yet been announced.

“From a technical perspective, our mines are getting deeper. There are significant technical challenges related to mining deeper,” he said. “Ventilation, ground control, and even logistics for the movement of ore, men and materials are problems.”

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