June/July 2013


A coordinated approach to tackle industry challenges

By Carl Weatherell

What exactly is this thing we call innovation? Innovation is creating real value by bringing something new to the workplace. This can be done in a few minutes or in a few decades, and it does not necessarily mean a new discovery, invention or process. Many of today’s innovations are technologies or processes that already exist but are simply applied in a different way.

At the Canadian Mining Innovation Council (CMIC), we are applying this simple definition of innovation to everything we do. We have rapidly expanded our reach beyond the mining industry to other sectors of the economy – information and communication technology, clean-tech, aerospace and defence, nanotechnology, and genomics – and have started looking into a few interesting innovations in quantum computing. We are also talking to venture capitalists (VC), foundations and institutional investors that provide start-up funding, and small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that could provide value to the mining industry.

Our rationale is simple: solutions may exist or are in the process of being developed in other sectors that could provide value to the mining industry. Foundations and VCs typically have a broad range of companies in their portfolios and they have performed significant due diligence on these technologies and companies. In some instances, these start-ups or SMEs may not be focusing on providing solutions to the mining industry. By understanding the value proposition these companies may provide to our industry, however, we are in a better position to understand these state-of-the art processes and potentially direct new technologies towards us, effectively solving problems and creating economic benefits.

CMIC’s first project in exploration, Integrated Multi-Parameter Footprints of Ore Systems, is a five-year, $13-million project that seeks to build a new generation of multi-parameter “footprint” models of mineral deposits and to develop a methodology to vector more effectively towards the potentially economic core of a system.

Critical in the success of launching this project were the deep collaboration and leadership from the mining industry and our industry-driven approach. CMIC employs a five-step process by, first, creating consortia of senior individuals from the mining and service industries in order to identify the greatest challenges faced in exploration, mining, processing, environmental stewardship, energy and human resources. We then assemble the best and brightest from these fields, as well as from colleges, universities and governments to discuss and determine the path forward to address these challenges. Next, we develop the project plan, acquire funding from multiple sources and finally execute.

The Footprints project was officially launched at Barrick Gold’s head offices on May 13, with Minister of State (Science and Technology) Gary Goodyear describing it as “providing global leadership to the mining industry.”

But we aren’t stopping there. Right now, CMIC is taking on two new initiatives. The Minesnorth initiative will catalyze the industry’s shift towards sustainable and environmentally responsible mining that benefits Canada’s northern communities and the northern economy. This shift will be realized through projects that aim to reduce energy consumption and emissions; decrease the impact of mining projects on the environment through the handling of waste rock and tailings; improve efficiency of transportation and logistics; and, importantly, work closely with northern resident communities. We have submitted a proposal for funding to the Government of Canada as one of many steps required to launch this initiative.

The second new approach is related to the cyclical nature of the mining industry and the retention of incredibly talented people. As the industry enters down cycles, such as the one we are in right now, many experienced and knowledgeable people are let go as companies struggle with financial challenges. In other sectors across Canada, there are organizations such as Start-up Canada that are committed to helping build new companies that provide value to the marketplace and generate economic wealth. We have had initial discussions to ask how we, the mining industry, can be similarly entrepreneurial by helping many of the talented individuals create new companies that address some of the industry’s greatest challenges. Can we create Start-up Mining?

At CMIC, we truly are industry-led and innovation-driven. Join us to help make Canada’s mining industry the absolute best in the world.

Carl Weatherell is the executive director and CEO of the Canada Mining Innovation Council (CMIC), which builds partnerships between business, government, universities and colleges to help drive innovation in the mining industry.

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