March/April 2011


Stepping up research efforts: Initiatives propelling innovation forward

By Tom Hynes

Building relationships with key industry stakeholders will be instrumental to CMIC in its efforts towards securing Canada’s role as a leader in research and innovation. One such relationship, with the Oil Sands Tailings Consortium, will extend CMIC’s reach even further and has the potential of helping with the advancement of its own Tailings Management Initiative.

Collaboration on R&D efforts

Canadian Natural Resources, Imperial Oil, Shell Canada, Suncor Energy, Syncrude Canada, Teck Resources and Total E&P Canada recently announced that they will partner in a unified effort to advance tailings management. This collaboration reflects the companies’ commitment towards operating in a socially and environmentally responsible manner and responds to the Alberta government’s policy to affect the timely reclamation of tailings.

The consortium’s efforts will foster innovation and collaboration in R&D relating to tailings. “The issue is not whether we can manage tailings; the issue is whether we can do it better,” says John Broadhurst, vice-president of Shell’s Oil Sands Development. “We believe that this relationship is a key step towards tailings solutions that will allow us to accelerate the pace of reclamation using the most advanced environmental measures.”

Each company has pledged to share its existing tailings research and technology and to remove any barriers that would hinder collaborating on future R&D efforts. The joining of forces and sharing of scientific expertise by these industry giants has the potential to produce greater results more quickly. The companies have agreed to the following core principles to guide the actions of the research collaboration:

• Make tailings technical information more broadly available to industry members, academia, regulators and others interested in collaborating on tailings solutions.

• Collaborate on tailings-related R&D and technology with companies outside the consortium as well as with research agencies.

• Eliminate monetary and intellectual property barriers to the use of knowledge and methods related to tailings technology and R&D.

• Work to develop an appropriate framework whereby tailings information is organized, verified through peer review and kept current.

“This is a tremendously positive step for research into improved technology for managing tailings,” says David Lynch, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Alberta. “These companies are to be congratulated for their foresight and willingness to work together in this way.”

Existing tailings research and development will serve as the knowledge base for the collaboration, and research objectives are planned to be finalized early this year. Further information can be obtained through Sean Beardow at

Other research initiatives moving ahead

CMIC is focusing on six major initiatives, all of which are in various stages of development. These large, multi-year, multi-partner programs centre on exploration, mining (mineral extraction), mineral processing, green mining (environment), tailings and energy. Each initiative is driven by an industry champion and committee tasked with keeping a strong focus on the need for innovative technology to support a profitable, safe and environmentally responsible industry. This strong support is critical to the success of the CMIC initiatives.

CMIC’s Exploration Innovation Consortium has recently defined its major research themes. For deep, mature camps, the consortium will address multidisciplinary exploration footprints (deposit); “deep mapping” techniques to unravel deep 3D geology in mature camps; and the development of robust and reliable down-hole data collection that is delivered in real time. For remote and covered deposits, it will focus on multidisciplinary terrain footprints (regional); mapping through cover, data integration and cover mapping; detection thresholds of key characteristics (data density); and secondary dispersion mechanisms, tools and techniques.

The mining and processing initiatives have recently identified champions who are now in the process of building their respective committees for their programs:

• Mining Initiatives: Alex Henderson, general manager of mining and milling technology, Vale

• Processing Initiative: Rob Henderson, vice-president of technology, Kinross

Not quite as advanced as the others, the Energy Efficiency Initiative is in the process of discussing a potential champion with one of our member companies, and the Environmental Management and Tailings Management initiatives have yet to identify champions, but they are actively pursuing potential candidates for these positions.

CMIC anticipates that all of its initiative committees will be in place and active within the next several months and working to define the long-term R&D needs of the industry.

For further information on CMIC or its initiatives, contact Michel Plouffe at

Tom Hynes
Tom Hynes has worked in the uranium and base metals industries, and has been a provincial regulator and a federal government research manager. He is the executive director of the Canada Mining Innovation Council.

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