August 2011

Innovation

Mining innovation news from academia

By Tom Hynes

In recent years, there have been many declines (such as enrollment numbers and financial support) and very few advances in mining education across the country (with the notable exceptions of the University of British Columbia and the University of Alberta). Professors, even from prestigious mining programs, have often found it difficult to obtain strong support for programs from their own institutions. This situation is certainly not unique to Canada; universities in other countries have also dealt with program closures and declining support for mining programs. Now, two new initiatives in mining education signal a positive change for our industry.

Recent developments

Laurentian University has been closely associated with mining for the past 50 years, with active programs in geology, engineering, environmental sciences and business management. It is also connected to a number of university-linked organizations (such as CEMI and MIRARCO), which build on the university’s skills and capacity. Now, Laurentian is going one step further and creating a new School of Mines. The school will engage in work on exploration, mining, health, culture and the environment. It will focus on the scientific and technical research and skills development that the industry urgently needs, and will also place emphasis on the socio-economic and management skills required by mining professionals.

A proposal has been made for an international minerals innovation and training institute in Saskatchewan. With help from others across the country, a group of dedicated professionals from the province have been working for the past few years to assess the situation, evaluate options and put forward realistic proposals for consideration.

The steering committee, led by Karen Chad, vice-president of research at the University of Saskatchewan, and Engin Ôzberk, vice-president of innovation and technology development at Cameco, has concluded that Saskatchewan’s minerals industry is not as well-addressed as it should be in terms of training industry professionals and of associated R&D. Chad and Ôzberk see the training and research components as necessarily linked, and their program proposal therefore includes two central streams: developing and training highly qualified people (HQP); and conducting research, development and implementation support for the industry.

The committee is looking to create a world-class institute, with a particular emphasis on the unique circumstances of Saskatchewan (such as its potash and uranium mining operations). It has already conducted a feasibility study and is currently developing a detailed business plan and funding proposal with input from government, industry and academia.  I wish the committee great success with this endeavour.

This initiative will undoubtedly help all of Saskatchewan reap the economic and social benefits of its mining industry, and will contribute greatly to Canada’s ability and capacity to address the national mining research and HQP issues. For further information, contact Karen Chad at karen.chad@usask.ca.

Even more good news

In addition to the developments mentioned above, we are seeing considerable signs of engagement by the Canadian academic community with CMIC and its programs. Exploration-related researchers are now meeting with CMIC’s Exploration Innovation Consortium industry partners to consider possible research projects to address the primary concerns that the industry has identified. The intent is to have research projects ready for funding consideration later this year. The other CMIC initiatives (mining, processing, energy, environmental stewardship and tailings) are not yet at this stage, but these programs are also advancing.

We have also seen a strong upsurge in academic membership with CMIC in recent months. Current university members include: the University of British Columbia, the University of Alberta, the University of Saskatchewan, the University of Manitoba, University of Winnipeg, Laurentian University, the University of Windsor, the University of Waterloo, the University of Toronto, Queen’s University, McGill University, École Polytechnique, Laval University and Memorial University. We are very happy to have them as CMIC members, helping us address the innovation and HQP needs of Canada’s minerals and mining sector.


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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