MICA funds for Sudbury mining innovators
Metal Tech News - August 28, 2023
Last updated 8/29/2023 at 2:30pm
$2.1M awarded to three companies advancing tech for more sustainable, productive mining
The Greater Sudbury region of Ontario is so enriched with deposits containing nickel and other metals needed for the clean energy transition that one of the area's parliamentary districts is named Nickel Belt.
Looking to also be an epicenter of sustainable mining technologies, Marc Serré, member of parliament for Nickel Belt, and Viviane Lapointe, member of parliament for the neighboring Sudbury district, shined a spotlight on C$2.1 million (US$1.5 million) in grants being awarded to three Sudbury area businesses developing technologies aimed at lowering the costs, increasing the productivity, and shrinking the environmental footprint of mining materials "needed to power the green and digital economy at home and around the world."
"Investing in ground-breaking technologies is crucial to further positioning Sudbury as a key player in the transition to a green economy," said Lapointe.
This funding is being administered by the Mining Innovation Commercialization Accelerator Network, which is on a mission to connect Canada's regional mining clusters to foster knowledge sharing and collaboration and to create technical and business synergies among its members.
"Greater Sudbury boasts the highest density of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) near both active mines and mineral processing facilities," said MICA Network Director Chamirai Nyabeze. "By bridging local SMEs with national capabilities, we can firmly establish and maintain the 'Canadian Advantage' as these technologies progress to make a significant impact on the global mining sector."
Toward this goal, the MICA funding for Greater Sudbury area mining tech innovators is supporting the development of internet of things-plus-artificial intelligence solutions for mining, a zero-emissions monorail for transporting mined ore, and new bioleach processes capable of extracting battery metals from tailings.
"The work these three organizations do combined with the services others within the MICA network provide, continues to enhance Nickel Belt – Greater Sudbury's capacity as a mining research and development powerhouse," said Serré. "This is a great example of MICA funding finding the right projects to enhance our local capacities to bring them to the global scale."
Digital mining solutions
The largest grant goes to Symboticware Inc., which has been awarded C$1 million (US$730,000) to further develop the first integrated IoT-plus-AI solution for mining to be powered by satellite connectivity such as SpaceX.
The main project MICA funds will support is the development of cutting-edge Industrial IoT devices for mining vehicles capable of processing data right on the spot and transmitting it through satellite networks.
With digital technologies such as autonomous operations, driver fatigue monitoring, predictive maintenance, and other digital systems being integrated into mining equipment, these heavy haulers are generating increasing amounts of data. The ability to process this data before transmitting it through satellite networks is expected to save connectivity costs for mines that are often located in remote locations.
Symboticware is also developing AI-powered predictive maintenance models that leverage machine learning to detect underlying conditions that lead to equipment failures, allowing mine operators to remedy the underlying problem before it becomes a costlier repair that puts the equipment out of commission for longer periods of time.
"The platform we are developing will make the mining industry's future more clean, safe, and efficient," said Symboticware Executive Chairman Kirk Petroski. "The support we received from MICA has been instrumental, and we are looking to see the positive impact of this initiative on the technology ecosystem of Sudbury and Canada overall."
Symboticware is piloting its innovative digital solutions at mines in Ontario, Quebec, and Nunavut.
Ore hauling monorail
RIINO Inc., which is developing a zero-emission monorail haulage system for mines, received C$780,000 (US$573,000) of funding through the MICA network.
"This funding supports developing our technology solution with a focus on changing the way we mine and reaching the mining sector's net-zero initiatives," said RIINO President Aaron Lambert.
Being developed in partnership with the Canada Mining Innovation Council and three tier-one mining companies, the RIINO monorail offers several advantages when it comes to installing electrified haulage to lower the carbon footprint of mining operations.
In addition to being inherently fully electric and autonomous, the RIINO rail needs less space both horizontally and vertically to haul equivalent amounts of material to traditional mining trucks.
For surface mines, this means that wide and dusty haul roads circling out of an open pit would be replaced with a narrow monorail pulled by an electric motor that does not need to stop for a recharge and can pull multiple cars of ore or waste rock up grades as steep as 30%. In addition to the obvious advantages, this means that pits could be made steeper, reducing the footprint of the mine and the energy needed to strip off material for a wider pit.
The RIINO rail could also shrink underground mines that are currently developed large enough for mining trucks to pass, about five meters (16.4 feet) each way. A RIINO tunnel only needs to be about three meters (9.8 feet) each direction, which could reduce the tons of material needed to be excavated to reach the underground ore by up to 70%.
RIINO recently kicked off the first stage of development studies with plans to fully design, build and validate a full-scale system of the innovative zero-emissions mine haulage technology before re-deploying the system into a working mining operation by 2026.
Battery metals from waste
The remaining C$287,000 (US$211,000) of MICA funding was awarded to MIRARCO Mining Innovation for a project focused on bioleaching processes to extract the battery metals nickel and cobalt from pyrrhotite tailings.
As a not-for-profit mining innovation and research corporation, MIRARCO is developing "The Centre for Mine Waste Biotechnology," a pilot-scale facility in Sudbury equipped with tools and expertise to accelerate the commercialization of bioremediation and bioleaching technologies.
The funding received will be used to support the recruitment of personnel, infrastructure developments, and piloting of the BacTech process using pyrrhotite tailings from Vale, a company that employs nearly 4,000 people at its nickel-copper-cobalt-platinum group metals mining and refining complex in Sudbury.
BacTech, an eco-friendly bioleaching and remediation solution for precious metal and critical mineral recovery, will be used to recover nickel and cobalt from the pyrrhotite, a volatile sulfide mineral that oxidizes rapidly and produces large amounts of iron and sulfur components as by-products that are typically considered waste.
MIRARCO Mining Innovation President and CEO Nadia Mykytczuk, a leader in biomining technology, is leading the development and building of a bioleach pilot plant.
"Focusing on 'Made in Canada' scientific solutions for waste mine management makes sense, and bioleaching is well positioned to complement modern mining practices and help extract critical minerals from waste," she said. "Partnerships with industry are important in accelerating the scale-up and commercialization of these types of technologies and the MICA grant will help deliver on these goals."