Intensely collaborative consortium in Canada’s mining industry has cut costs, risks and energy consumption, to the tune of billions in savings.
For the past quarter century, the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) team at the Energy, Mining and Environment Research Centre (EME) has led the nationally acclaimed Mining Materials Wear and Corrosion Consortium. Collaborating with 16 national and international companies and suppliers from the Canadian mining and oil sands industry, the Consortium tackled soaring costs and other issues arising from equipment wear and corrosion.
“The NRC’s leadership and industry partnerships have saved operators and suppliers billions of dollars over the years,” says Dr. Jeff Liu, Corporate Integrity Engineer at CNRL and current Chair of the Consortium. “The team’s model of collaboration, integrity, creativity and trust is a good template for others to follow.”
The collaborations have helped companies better manage materials wear problems, reduce high maintenance and operations costs, and decrease safety and environmental risks. “Running an operation without frequent equipment disruptions and unplanned shutdowns also contributes to the environment by reducing energy intensity,” adds Dr. Liu.
The hard-won benefits of this close collaboration are solidified in the specifications and standards that the Consortium incorporated throughout the industry. Transferring the lessons learned into standards ensures that the legacy lives on.
The NRC’s contributions also led to an industry-wide materials evolution, according to Dr. Shiqiang (Rob) Hui, Consortium Manager and Team Leader for EME’s Engineered Materials and Processing team. “One area is pipelines, where failures pose a significant risk for Canadian oil sands operators,” he says. “We introduced innovative materials such as polymers, which resist corrosion, are sustainable and have a low carbon footprint.”
A hallmark of the collaboration was continuous improvement. This meant that vendors, end-users and the NRC analyzed different components or pieces of equipment, discussed how improvements could be made and presented concepts to the Consortium’s steering committee. Innovations approved for implementation were prototyped and tested by the NRC. “While this process was often lengthy, it illustrates how the Consortium’s focused interactions drove advances,” says Dr. Hui.
A lasting legacy
Dr. Tiger Tang, Principal Metallurgist, Applied Materials Technology Group of Weir Minerals, adds that with thelp of the NRC’s technical staff and testing facilities, the company developed a series of new materials for the oil sands industries that provided solutions to a number of chronic problems.
“During the development, we relied on guidance from the Consortium’s oil sands producing members as well as technical expertise and wear data from the NRC,” he says. “What we learned through this collaboration can benefit the industry in Canada and worldwide.”
The he NRC’s team has conducted research on many other issues and provided solutions over the years. For example, materials they recommended enabled one energy company to extend the service life of its primary separation cell from 5 weeks to over a year. The production loss avoidance was $100 million per year, and the labour and material cost reduction is $12 million annually. Technical recommendations for the best elastomer products benefitted the company $60 million a year.
Another company used the NRC’s recommendations for breaker materials that led to savings of $7 million a year, and several solutions to monitor pipelines and measure the wear on them. One wear-sensing technology has been licensed to Penticton Foundry in British Columbia.
A material move
The Consortium will achieve a significant milestone in December 2022 when the NRC will transition its role on wear and corrosion services to other Canadian service providers, including InnoTech Alberta. It will continue supporting the industry by fulfilling its key mandate to transfer technology and expertise to Canadian businesses. The NRC will facilitate this through channels such as training and licensing of its testing protocols and equipment specifications. This will allow EME to shift the focus of its capacity and expertise to support the clean energy transition and tackle issues facing the development of Canada’s critical mineral resources.
“Our research and technology development brings the latest innovations in clean energy and advanced mining technologies to Canadian industry,” says Dr. Hui. “And our expertise and unique facilities will continue to help the mining industry address billion-dollar issues of equipment durability while aligning with the Government of Canada’s prioritization of green mining initiatives.”