February 2009


Innovating through research CANMET-MMSL pushes the limits of the possible in Canadian mining

By M. Laflamme, M. Grenier, and J. Zinck

University of Ottawa co-op student Stephanie Marshall transplants cattails as part of CANMET-MMSL’s research of the use of organic waste materials for the development of shoreline wetlands in flooded tailings impoundments.

The CANMET Mining and Mineral Sciences Laboratories (CANMET-MMSL) is a branch within the Minerals and Metals Sector (MMS) of Natural Resources Canada. MMSL leads the government in the sustainable development and responsible use of Canada’s mineral and metal resources through leading-edge research and technology development.

The year 2007 marked our 100th anniversary. Over the years, the economic and scientific impacts of the work performed at CANMET-MMSL worldwide have proven its effectiveness and competency. For example, in 2007 CANMET-MMSL, in conjunction with Hydro-Québec, the Société de recherche et développement minier (SOREDEM) and seven mining companies — Agnico-Eagle, Areva, Barrick Gold, Cameco, Vale Inco, IAMGOLD and Rio Tinto — established a new initiative on explosive-free rock breakage (EFRB). The objective was to develop a toolbox of EFRB technologies for underground mining. Phase 1, completed in 2008, involved an extensive search and evaluation of international knowledge, expertise and applicable technologies. Phase 2, scheduled to begin in 2009, will set and focus research priorities and technologies.

Another research project completed in 2007, in a deep mine, determined the effect of depth on exhaust emissions and the performance of diesel production equipment. This study, the first of its kind, established that carbon monoxide emissions decreased, whereas nitrogen oxides increased as a function of depth. In addition, the study found that conventional instrumentation to measure exhaust gas concentrations is affected by the drastic changes in atmospheric pressure encountered when travelling up or down in a deep mine setting.

Among the projects currently underway at CANMET-MMSL is a Green Mining Initiative that addresses mounting concerns, such as the mining footprint, water quality, waste management and mine rehabilitation. Proactive, innovative technological solutions are needed to advance sustainable mining while reducing operating costs and long-term liability, to meet increasingly stringent environmental standards and regulations, to increase value added and to protect workers. Building on the success of multi-stakeholder initiatives such as MEND (Mine Environment Neutral Drainage) and NOAMI (National Orphaned Abandoned Mines Initiative), expected benefits of the Green Mining Initiative include: less material mined and hoisted to surface; the minimization or better utilization of wastes; better treatment and waste management technologies; and enhanced knowledge of metal behaviour in air, water and soils that will significantly improve environmental performance and positively change public perception while decreasing liabilities.

The Green Mining Initiative will involve the participation of the mining industry, federal, provincial and territorial governments, regulators, academics and non-governmental organizations. It is focused on four main research themes — footprint reduction, innovation in waste management, ecosystem risk management, mine closure and rehabilitation.

Another future initiative is an international research program on metal-contaminated lands. It will bring together a multi-disciplinary team from the industrial, scientific and regulatory communities. The objective will be to develop and assess innovative scientific methodologies and technologies to quantify and assess the liabilities associated with metal contamination in terrestrial ecosystems and to mitigate potential impacts on the environment. Metal bioavailability in terrestrial ecosystems and the potential for toxicity are not well understood, and there are few standardized methodologies to assess the chemical speciation, bioavailability and toxicity of metals in soils. Regulatory initiatives are moving forward in the face of scarce scientific underpinnings and mostly inadequate tools.

MMSL intends to continue collaborating with the mining sector to research and develop the theoretical understanding of and innovative solutions to the challenges associated with mining. MMSL’s main areas of expertise are:

  • Research and development on a wide range of processes and technologies involved in extracting ore from the ground and transforming it into concentrates, mineral products or metals.
  • Ground stability monitoring and control, mine mechanization/ automation, mine air quality and ventilation, and coal mining health and safety.
  • Metallurgical processing and minerals and metals recycling development, and applied mineralogy development and support.
  • Treatment of gaseous and liquid mine and mill effluents, including acidic drainage; mine decommissioning and rehabilitation and scientific input for developing environmental policies and regulations pertaining to metals.
  • Sudbury Laboratory — automation of mine ventilation and controlling diesel pollutants and toxic substances.
  • Val-d’Or Experimental Mine — underground facility for in situ testing and research in a mining environment.

Marcel Laflamme, Michel Grenier and Janice Zinck are program managers at Natural Resources Canada—Laflamme in mine mechanization and automation; Grenier in underground mine environment; and Zinck in the mine waste management program.

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