Engineering & Construction

Transforming pretty rock into valuable assets

Today, in mature mining jurisdictions such as Ontario, projects are becoming more challenging, and ostensibly less economical in comparison to those in more fledgling geographies. Yet, in the past two decades there has rarely been a time in which projects in stable jurisdictions such as Canada, the US and Australia have been in such favor with investors. The assumption was that as world–class mineral resources in low-risk areas became exhausted, mining companies would venture into frontier areas, where country risk was increasingly acute. While certain ‘riskier’ jurisdictions, such as West Africa, have had success in recent years, the ‘tier-one’ jurisdictions remain the most attractive. A thriving mining climate in higher cost geographies with technically complex projects would not have been economically feasible without creative engineering. It is also the ability to develop and deploy new technologies along with social and environmental resource planning that is driving an industry resurgence in several Canadian provinces.

James Lill, manager for Eastern Canada at Mining Plus, a mining technical services provider, affirmed this: “Ontario is a jurisdiction that embraces international mining practices and has an appetite for innovative equipment and solutions. The interest to develop projects here is a lot higher than it has been in the past, and we are witnessing more accommodating regulatory legislation to support this.”

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Lill considers that mine infrastructure planning is a strength for Ontario miners, and the jurisdiction is a leader in this area.

Zimi Meka, co-founder and CEO of Ausenco, echoed Lill’s sentiment that Ontario, and Canada in general, is an appealing destination to build, permit and operate a mine. “Working on projects in 70-80 countries all over the world, Ausenco has a very good understanding of the favorable and more difficult jurisdictions. Canada presents itself extremely well.”

Ausenco is partnered with Argonaut Gold to build the Magino mine located 14 km southeast of Dubreuilville, and the construction of the US$380-million open-pit gold mine and processing mill is set to begin in Q1 2021. Meka commented: “Ontario has a good process to get projects approved and permitted, and interactions with local communities and governments are well defined and well understood.”

"There is interest among mid-tiers and juniors to upgrade their technical studies – but we are not seeing a boom period mentality, and companies are looking to consolidate their current portfolios instead of expanding them aggressively. Nevertheless, metal prices have returned interest to some projects that were previously on pause.”

James Lill, Manager – Eastern Canada, Mining Plus

Underground mining trends

The Northern Ontario Heritage Corporation’s grant awarded to Cementation Canada for its innovative method of transporting ore and waste rock from underground mines to surface is emblematic of a widespread push to improve the economics, safety and environmental footprint of underground mining.

Traditionally there are a number of ways to bring ore from an underground mine to the surface, including haul trucks, hoists, or conveying. However, Cementation saw an opportunity that could lower a mining company’s capital spend and acted on it. As Roy Slack, director of Cementation America’s explained: “Injection hoisting is about pumping ore to surface through pipelines, which lends itself to the concept of continuous mining rather than batch mining.”

This involves crushed material, which is pumped through a pipeline in a medium, and once the ore reaches surface, it is separated from the medium and then goes on to the processing plant, while the medium is recycled. According to Slack: “The technology eliminates the need for haul trucks and for a major hoisting plant. If you are accessing from a shaft you still have a hoist to bring personnel and equipment up and down, but you do not need the large rock and ore hoist that we typically put in.”

Another trend that is becoming increasingly prevalent underground is battery electric vehicles (BEVs). Because BEVs are still more expensive up-front than their diesel counterparts, it is important to look at the value over the full lifecycle of the unit. Maarten van Koppen, product manager of mine operations at MacLean Engineering, asserts: “This is why a lot of interest is coming primarily from new projects, where we help consultants and customers see what an all-electric fleet would look like versus a diesel fleet. That is where you can start saving on ventilation infrastructure, ventilation costs, and fuel infrastructure that you do not have to invest in.”

"One of the products that Synaptic Technologies developed as a result of the pandemic is Therm-Assure, which is an App that screens people for elevated temperatures. Based on a prior research project for the World Health Organization, it includes a FLIR-equipped Android device and the software that we developed.”

Christina Visser, CEO, Ionic Technology Group

This is particularly true in deep mines where it is hot. In addition, it can be an important strategy in achieving carbon reduction targets along with providing a healthier and safer environment for the operators in the absence of diesel exhaust fumes.

2020 saw a heightened focus on health and safety, a trend expected to continue in 2021 as Covid-19 cases continue to rise. “We always talk about health and safety, but the mining industry has always really been focused on safety,” commented Roy Slack, observing that injury prevention had previously taken priority over health. “Now, the pandemic has dramatically increased the industry’s focus on the health aspect, on the challenges of remote work, and on mental health issues,” he said, adding that the systems and protocols to prevent workplace injuries have been adapted to prevent the spread of the pandemic.

These systems include technology to monitor worker health, such as Synaptic Technologies’ Therm-Assure App. Christina Visser, CEO of Sudbury-based Ionic Technology Group, which consists of six companies, including engineering house Black Rock Engineering and software development firm Synaptic Technologies, explained that Therm-Assure includes a FLIR-equipped Android device which can rapidly screen groups of people for elevated temperatures. On the topic of other pertinent mining trends, Visser observed a resurgence in copper-related automation projects. “This industry has seen an uptick in market activity and as a result, there has been an increased demand in automation for copper refineries.”

Image courtesy of Ausenco