November 2011

Mining conference cultivates sustainable thinking

Reinforcing the Swedish-Canadian alliance

By K. Lagowski

The first all-day Swedish-Canadian mining conference, headlined “Innovative, sustainable and profitable mining,” was staged September 21 at the Hilton Toronto Hotel. Sweden’s key industry players designed the event to showcase their strengths and build on alliances between the two nations. As such, there was a strong presence from both Swedish and Canadian governments, as well as close to 200 Canadian mining executives and decision-makers.

Throughout the day, there were presentations from a host of senior officials from Swedish mining and mining-related firms. Atlas Copco, Volvo and other manufacturers, as well as Swedish export credit firms SEK and EKN, all highlighted their excellence in everything from ore trucks to fan bearings.

Reg Labelle, national sales and business development manager for Atlas Copco Construction and Mining Canada, noted that his organization has just become a member of the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, which provides a benchmark for asset managers that are investing in sustainable companies. Labelle offered a number of examples of Atlas Copco products that are already designed with energy efficiency in mind: the engine for their newest mine truck is seven to 12 per cent more fuel efficient, and the latest compressor energy recovery unit for rotary screw compressors enables up to 94 per cent of the energy from wasted compression heat to be recovered.

Atlas Copco already does major business in Canada (18 per cent of its revenue comes from North America) but they hope upcoming improvements in technology will increase that. The company has set its sights on improving energy efficiency by 20 per cent over the next nine years. Four per cent of the annual budget will be dedicated to research and development in order to help reach that goal.

Joao Ricciarelli, president of SKF Canada, explained how SKF evolved from a Swedish bearing business to an expert in international asset efficiency optimization. In 2010, SKF had sales of $9.3 billion, investing 3.5 per cent in research and development.  “A bearing is worth only a cent,” said  Ricciarelli, “but the money and effort and the impact on energy and sustainability to replace that cent is outrageous. That’s why we work closely with our customers to develop strategic solutions to get the most out of their equipment.”

He gave the example of one company with a problematic iron ore grinding mill. When SKF did a design review, it found there was a seal problem and developed a solution, which reduced grease consumption from 1,000 kilograms to 15 kilograms per year, a substantial savings in both economic and environmental cost.

Ricciarelli commented that he would like to see Canadians become less risk-averse. “Swedes are conservative, but Canadians are even more conservative,” he said. “In Sweden, we have had to overcome our risk-averse attitude in order to try new and different approaches, which have been tried and tested around the world. SKF has over two million customers all over the world, and we would like to work more with Canadians.”

Sweden’s geology is similar to Canada’s in many ways, and for centuries mining has been a huge industry there. Just as Canada rests on the Canadian Shield, Sweden is located on the Fennoscandian Shield, which is laden with iron, nickel and copper deposits. And also like Canada, the mining industry in Sweden is bustling with new mines as well as revitalized old ones. Currently, there are 13 metal mines in production in Sweden, 50 industrial mineral mines and 60 quarries. Iron, copper, zinc, lead, silver and gold are all being produced.

Up to 24 per cent of the world’s minerals are consumed in Europe, but only four per cent are produced there. In order to compete outside the small Swedish market, Swedes are faced with a continuous search for efficiency, technological development and increased productivity. The same drive to compete has Sweden investing heavily in exploration and prospecting, especially in the north, and looking to strengthen its connections with Canada. It has also been exploring opportunities elsewhere – a similar mining conference took place in Australia in November, and there are plans for a Chilean edition in the near future.

Much of Sweden’s success in the mining industry started in the 1970s, said Magnus Andersson of the Swedish Trade Council, when the country was dependent on oil. As the oil crisis came, the country was forced to make radical changes; it established renewable energy policies, encouraged by tax incentives and legislation. “Since the Kyoto agreements, CO2 emissions in Sweden have been reduced by 10 per cent, but at the same time, we have had continuous economic growth,” he said. Andersson added that Canada’s CO2 emissions have increased by 25 per cent. He said Sweden’s success offers proof that sustainability and innovation can be profitable.

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