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MIRARCO, Glencore project will look to mitigate impact of tailings pond snow runoff

Eighteen-month research project funded by Ontario Voucher for Innovation and Productivity program
MIRARCO is a research arm of Laurentian University in Sudbury.

SUDBURY, ON – May 3, 2021: MIRARCO Mining Innovation, a research arm of Laurentian University, is pleased to announce the awarding of funding from the Government of Ontario’s Voucher for Innovation and Productivity (VIP) program, led by the Ontario Centre of Innovation (OCI) and Glencore Sudbury, to execute the Snow Melt Management for Tailings Ponds in Mining Operations Project. This project, which was the brainchild of Bernie Swarbrick of Cornerstone EHS Management Systems, is expected to result in the development of new tools, equipment and methodologies to significantly reduce peak water flow rates at tailings management facilities during the spring runoff period.

In winter, snow that has accumulated in the tailings management footprint area of a mine in a northern climate melts and the resultant water either has to be contained within the tailings dam or treated using a water treatment plant and discharged to the environment. During these short and intense periods, facilities are pushed to their limits – tailings impoundment areas are often run with the maximum allowable water level and water treatment plants are run at maximum capacity. Failure to adequately plan and mitigate risk during this critical period can lead to the overtopping or failure of tailings dams, or the release of untreated water to the environment.

Due to the need to plan for this period, tailings management facilities are typically overdesigned for normal operations, which can double the capital costs of building these facilities. Climate change has the potential to push these facilities beyond their limits and requires mining companies to pursue new and novel approaches to managing water inventory.

This 18-month joint project between Glencore, MIRARCO and Cornerstone will study, using novel instrumentation, monitoring and equipment developed by local suppliers Pinchin and The Shop Industrial, the potential for snow-piling methods to reduce the rate of snow melt during the spring melt. This is expected to significantly reduce peak flows and dramatically reduce the rate at which the inventory water arrives at the tailings management facilities. The rate of melt can be further controlled with changes to the pile design and covers. This approach has the potential to become a new industry best practice.

Through the VIP program, which supports collaboration between academia and industry to develop, implement and commercialize new technical innovations that solve existing industry challenges, the research project received $113,500 in support from the Government of Ontario, through OCI. This was matched with a further $113,500 in industry contribution for a total project value of $227,000.

Marc Butler, director of regulatory affairs for Glencore’s Sudbury Integrated Nickel Operations, notes: “We have a climate resiliency plan that reviews the relationship of current peak flows during run-off periods and predictions from the site water balance models. Having the ability to calibrate the information we generate, from both current monitoring and future climate models, especially if we can help control the seasonal run-off peak events, will lead to a more advanced basin-wide mitigation plan. This type of work could reduce or potentially eliminate the need to raise wastewater containment dams. We will certainly share our learnings with the Ontario Mining Association (OMA) and the Mining Association of Canada (MAC).”



MIRARCO, or Mining Innovation, Rehabilitation, and Applied Research Corporation, has been providing innovative solutions for mining industry challenges since our inception in 1998. We are a not-for-profit research arm of Laurentian University, Canada’s Mining University. Our team of talented academic and industry professionals offers expertise for applied research in: Rock Mechanics, Safety, Decision Support Software, and Energy.

About the Ontario Centre of Innovation

The Ontario Centre of Innovation (OCI), formerly the Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE), maximizes the commercial impact of research developed in Ontario’s colleges, universities, and research hospitals, and accelerates the commercialization of Made-in-Ontario intellectual property and technologies. A pan-provincial collaboration platform, with a broad and deep network across industry, academia and government, OCI initiates unparalleled partnership opportunities, develops and manages successful industry-academic collaborations, supports high-potential SMEs in commercializing ground-breaking research, and provides hands-on training and skills development opportunities for the next generation of highly-skilled talent. Learn more about the Voucher for Innovation and Productivity (VIP):

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