Updated: Mar 1, 2019
The mining industry is a huge energy consumer that uses earth-moving and chemical processing techniques to extract the minerals and metals necessary for societal maintenance and growth. Green Mining is a movement to instill best management practices to reduce the environmental impacts of mining and its related activities. Canada's Green Mining Initiative was developed in 2009 to accelerate research, development and deployment of green mining technologies to reduce mining footprints, improve waste management, enhance ecosystem management and to develop more effective methods of remediation and reclamation after mine closure. Their initiative is expected to continue until 2020.
In 2015, a benchmark evaluation report was conducted on Canada's Green Mining Initiative. Their projects include the improvement of technologies for Rare Earth Element (REE) and chromite mining, the improvement of automation and equipment, the development of safer access to underground mines, researching the fate and effects of metal contaminants, improving water recovery and recycling, mining wastes as resources, managing ecosystem restoration and mine closure, mine automation, the replacement of diesel power for underground equipment and tackling the energy requirements of earth moving.
Another Canadian-based corporation working on Green Mining Initiatives is the Centre for Excellence in Mining Innovation (CEMI). Their objectives include innovations to find more ore, to mine ore effectively and safely, to generate more value from mines and to reduce the impact of mining on the environment. Under their SustainMine Project, they're working on acquiring funding for the tailings remediation of a Crown-controlled site near Sudbury (ON) and developing tools for the classification of native plants for use in mine re-vegetation at the Victor Diamond Mine near Attawapiskat (ON).
What Green Mining strategies have been implemented or in development?
Phytomining: farming for metals using high-biomass plants that accumulate metals in large concentrations. This method of mining isn't widely implemented and is primarily practiced in arid areas on dry tailings. Some technological and environmental issues with this strategy include the introduction of non-native/invasive plant species and the use of cyanide to increase the uptake of metals into the plants prior to harvest.
Chemical Gold Extraction from Ore without Water: current methods utilize cyanide to extract gold from ore. Researchers at the University of Notre Dame have developed a new molecule that converts the gold-containing ore into a gold-acid 'container' molecule. This 'container' molecule separates gold from a solvent without the use of water. The solvent can be recycled although waste products have not been discussed.
All Electric-Powered Mine: utilizing battery-powered vehicles to replace diesel fleets. Goldcorp's Borden Lake underground gold mine, near Chapleau (ON), is on track to be Canada's first all-electric underground mine. They are collaborating with Sandvik Mining and MacLean Engineering to deliver a battery-powered underground fleet with new mining technology ranging from battery-operated drilling and blasting equipment to electric bolters, personnel carriers and a 40 tonne (44 ton) battery-powered haul truck. The power is proposed to be drawn from the Provincial electrical power grid. Where electrical equipment is not utilized, vehicle, heavy equipment and diesel generators will be used (page S-7). The majority of Ontario's energy is supplied by nuclear and hydro-electric power plants. In the vicinity of the proposed Borden Mine, the nearest power plant is hydro-electric.
Green Mining is still in its infancy with many innovations on the horizon. Are these new technologies disruptive enough to revolutionize an industry that has only changed in scale and effectiveness in tens of thousands of years?
About the Author:
Diana has over 20 years of experience working in the mineral exploration industry searching for diamonds and metals in a range of roles: from heavy minerals lab technician to till sampler, rig geologist, project manager and business owner. Following a Master of Science degree in diamond indicator mineral geochemistry, Diana has conducted field work in BC, NWT, YT, ON (Canada) and in Greenland. She has also been involved, remotely through a BC-based office, on mineral exploration projects located in South America, Africa, Eurasia, and the Middle East. Diana finished a Ph.D. at UNBC in 2017 researching geochemical multivariate statistical analysis and interpretation. Currently, Diana is the owner of Takom Exploration Ltd., a small geological and environmental consulting firm focused on metal exploration in BC and the Yukon.