From The Ground Up, Igniting Innovation In Canada's Mineral Sector.
Canada’s mineral sector is at the forefront of technological innovation. Industry experts, academics, government scientists and engineers generate the innovations to ensure the discovery and development of mineral deposits, and the operation and closure of mines.
These innovations support jobs, communities and businesses and are leading the way in reducing and improving the industry’s environmental impact and providing the necessary minerals to build a sustainable future.
The above infographic comes from Canadian Minerals and Metals Plan and it draws out the use of technology and innovation at every stage of mining.
INNOVATION AND DISCOVERY
The first stage of mining is discovering sources of minerals. It is not easy but with advances in exploration techniques, geologists are uncovering the minerals for the future, today.
The future will require uncommon types of mineral deposits, such as chromite and rare earth elements (REE). Canada is host to the ‘Ring of Fire’ chromite deposits in northern Ontario and several well advanced REE exploration projects to meet the demand for battery minerals.
In order to improve the discovery these deposits, the mineral sector deploys the latest in technology to improve the chances of making the next discovery. Field equipment such as a laser induced spectrometers detect the composition of minerals while in the field.
However, the majority of mineral discoveries will be deeper in the Earth’s crust. This requires collaborative data to identify patterns in complex geology at depth.
The Canadian Government sponsors the Targeted Geoscience Initiative (TGI), a comprehensive source for information on ore systems throughout Canada. Geologists will be able to contrast and compare mineral resources across the country to develop new insights into economic deposits.
Mapping and mineral analysis generate large amounts of data and the patterns of ore systems. New deposits are not immediately apparent from this data. Through the application machine learning and computer processing power, geologists could identify new sources of minerals.
Data will drive this initiative and 3D mapping technology and geophysical modelling provide the inputs to uncover ore deposits. These technologies can also lead to more efficient and effective mineral exploration and could extend the life of currently operating mines by identifying new zones for mining.
Finding the resources is the first step, the next is mining.
INNOVATION FOR PRODUCTIVITY
Once a mine is built on top of an economic deposit, it is time to start moving the rocks.
Using alternative energy such as hydrogen fuel cells and battery-electric powered vehicles in the mine could reduce greenhouse gases of an underground mine by up to 25%.
The knock-on effects go beyond reducing the mineral’s sector carbon footprint, but alternative energy offers costs and productivity savings, and improved workers’ health.
Once equipment brings the ore to the mill, it is sorted using high pulse microwave technologies and sensors that can improve crushing and milling.
Extracting minerals through comminuition (the process of crushing of grinding rock into smaller pieces) is the most energy intensive stage of the mining process. Up to 53% of a mine site’s electricity consumption is due to crushing and milling.
Technological innovation in mine management is not limited to the underground or the earth’s surface. GPS satellites will connect and monitor the mine of the future.
High-accuracy GPS can vastly improve mining safety, productivity, efficiency and environmental management by enabling increasingly precise and automated operations.
Areas that will benefit from GPS will include:
Efficient management of mines during operation will improve the restoration of the ecosystem after mining ends.
INNOVATION FOR SUSTAINABILITY AND RESILIENCE
Mining temporarily changes its surrounding environment but its products supply the critical material for a sustainable future. Innovation and technology will provide the greatest benefits to Earth’s other valuable natural resources, its water, land and communities, by minimizing its impact.
Water is crucial to mining and is required at every step of the process. Mining operations deploy successful water recycling to minimize usage and the release of potentially contaminated waters to the environment.
Canadian mines generate between 200 to 250 million tonnes of tailings waste annually. New mining techniques can extract and recycle valuable minerals from these tailings.
The critical and final stage of mining is ecosystem restoration. Returning the environment of a mine site to its natural state will help build resilience to the effects of climate change.
Industry experts and academia regularly collaborate to develop and update the best practice guidelines to maintain and monitor the high environmental standards all Canadians benefit from.
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