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We Are Laying the Foundation for Mines of Tomorrow

We Are Laying the Foundation for Mines of Tomorrow

Photo: Reuters Photo: Reuters

James Gordon Carr
Few countries understand the nexus between mining and environmental responsibility better than Canada. With over 60 commodities produced at more than 200 mines in the country and $170 billion assets in more than 100 countries, the Canadian mining industry is a world leader in innovation, environmental stewardship, indigenous engagement and corporate social responsibility.

This reputation for innovation excellence extends to operations abroad, where high ethical standards have established a strong brand of sustainable development.

At the heart of Canada's approach to achieving its COP21 commitments is a recognition that we have to find greener ways to develop our resources. Between 2005 and 2014, energy use in Canada's mineral industry fell 7 per cent, the result of efficiency gains in downstream mineral processing and manufacturing sub-sectors. Greenhouse gas emissions fell 8 per cent in the same period.

Today, Canadian mining companies are knowledge-based enterprises that are using information to drive productivity, increase efficiency, improve safety and enhance sustainability. Mining tools that have remained unchanged for decades are being replaced by a new generation of smart, automated technologies.

We have found success in an industry-driven, government-delivered partnership approach to research and development. Canada's Green Mining Initiative, for example, brings together research partners and industry to develop integrated solutions to mining's greatest challenges.

By leveraging private sector expertise and funding, we have accelerated the development and deployment of new technologies and processes, boosting environmental and economic performance in four key areas - increasing energy efficiency, enhancing productivity, improving waste management, and reducing water consumption through recycling and recovery.

To cite just one example, our government has worked with a Canadian clean technology supplier and a mining company to test and validate a ventilation-on-demand technology, which allows an underground mine to reduce energy consumption of its fan system by at least 20 per cent while maintaining a safe working environment for its workers. It is an example of how we can lower barriers to adoption of green mining technologies.

We are also working to end the use of diesel in underground mining with alternative energy technologies such as hydrogen. Eliminating diesel would lead to a 35 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and improve the health and safety of miners.

Three per cent of all electric power generated in the world is currently being used to crush solid materials during mining operations and processing. We are conducting innovative research to reduce the amount of waste material brought to the surface from underground mines, thereby reducing the demand for energy.

And, building on our successful partnerships with industry, we are undertaking a five-year programme to stimulate the technological innovation needed to improve the development of rare earth elements and chromite. Rare earths are among the critical inputs to clean technology (such as magnets used in wind turbines) and other advanced technologies. And chromite is used in stainless steel. Through this programme, we aim both to reduce the energy intensity of mining and to mine materials that are critical to supporting the transition to a low-carbon economy.

By focusing on clean technologies and innovation, we are laying the foundation for the mines of tomorrow and ensuring that this dynamic industry remains a source of jobs and opportunities for generations to come.

James Gordon Carr is Federal Minister for Natural Resources, Government of Canada