NRC to help boost innovation in Canada's mining sector

- Ottawa, Ontario

Since 1995, the second Monday of May has been designated as the beginning of National Mining Week in Canada. This year, we mark the week of May 12‑17, with a commentary from Andy Reynolds, NRC's General Manager, Energy, Mining and Environment.

NRC's Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) technology can analyze the elemental composition of a solid, liquid or gas. LIBS has a vast number of industrial, environmental and research applications in the mining value chain from ore to finished product.

Much has been said lately about the need for an innovation boost in the mining industry, including calls to action from many key figures within the industry. Mining is a capital-intensive business that has plenty of risk in its operations already, without adding unproven technology to the mix. So there is broad agreement that few technology advances in recent decades have been embraced by the sector. But simply accelerating technology adoption is not the step change the industry is looking for.

Canadian miners are facing new challenges throughout their extensive worldwide operations, including tighter environmental regulations and lower-grade ores. They need more-productive mining systems with strong, credible social and environmental performance. Technology development can help address these challenges, but with a highly fragmented Canadian R&D supplier base, miners struggle to find partners with the critical mass to drive the business improvements they need. That's why the National Research Council has refocused its capabilities into tightly-defined industry-facing programs. As Canada's national Research and Technology Organization (RTO), NRC can bring immense capacity to bear on the most pressing problems. Through thorough industry engagement, we have identified program goals that will take years of sustained effort to achieve. Critically, these goals are defined in terms of impact on the industry and benefit to Canada, and are the basis of NRC's internal business cases for investment in its unique capabilities for research, technology development, and specialized testing.

NRC's High Efficiency Mining program targets the cost of mining operations to increase the reserves of lower-grade ores while maintaining competitiveness. By working with industry stakeholders, we will develop advanced sensors, process controls and diagnostics to improve mining system efficiency; combining these delivrables with improvements to equipment durability, we will enable a significant reduction in maintenance, repair and overhaul costs to be demonstrated.

This focused seven-year effort will be part of the step change miners are looking for. Its unparalleled scale allows us to work with entire equipment supply chains – including other R&D suppliers, EPC contractors and equipment suppliers – to ensure that "pilot and forget" is replaced by "demonstrate, integrate, manufacture and deploy" for the long haul.

Looking to the future, these changes could be more profound than many expect and lead to a full-scale paradigm shift in the sector. The Canada Mining Innovation Council (CMIC) is working hard to help the industry consolidate its demands for R&D, and smaller R&D providers will need to collaborate much more effectively if they are to meet that demand at scale. But consolidated demand will inevitably lead to shared solutions: we believe that as those solutions become new equipment products integrated into more complex systems, the technology risks will increasingly have to be shared by miners with their EPC and equipment supply chains.

When technology risks are shared with suppliers of equipment and services, new commercial arrangements may be necessary, for example supply chain technology alliances and system integration programs. In other words, not just a step change in innovation, but also a step change in the way innovation is transacted.

The National Research Council is already preparing for this exciting new future. Drawing on our long-standing presence in more advanced industry sectors such as aerospace and automotive, we can foresee many of the challenges ahead. With a clear focus on enabling equipment suppliers to create new innovative products, integrated into efficient future-proof systems, we will help Canadian supply chains evolve into stronger teams with greater risk-bearing capacity and international presence.

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