Redesigning Mining Supply Chains to Enhance Value and Sustainability
- Value creation increases further along the supply chain. Canada is endowed with a rich and diverse geology. Development of these resources into more advanced metal and manufactured products will derive higher value from our abundant mineral resources, while strengthening our downstream industries. The circular economy is an untapped opportunity since additional value can be derived by redesigning our mining value chains from mineral extraction to processing, and by reprocessing and repurposing high liability waste on legacy mine sites.
- Canada has always been recognized as a leader in sustainable mining practices. By accessing new data-driven Fintech applications, such as traceability and provenance through blockchain, we could certify environmental and ethical practices in mineral resource development. In the future, it may be possible to have Canada-branded commodities, delivered through a responsible and secure supply chain.
- Knowledge of the mining industry and its products is critical for Canada’s competitive, responsible and sustainable mining resource production. Not only are these commodities necessary for a modern way of life, they are critical for the transition to a green and low carbon economy. Unfortunately, the Canadian mining industry’s education and workforce development activities within Canada are dwindling because of a lack of mineral literacy. To boost engagement, we must be transparent, share industry successes and best practices, support mining’s importance for our future economy, and promote mineral resource development as an amazing career.
The Canadian minerals and metals sector is complex and action is required across the entire supply chain. At the end of the supply chain consumers need to understand how their modern lives rely heavily on mining commodities. Educators need to effectively communicate the need for students in this high-tech, digital and responsible industry. Those working directly in the minerals and metals sector need to do so collaboratively and with collective intent to support communities, improve value extraction and minimize impact. Finally, those working indirectly with the mining industry need to recognize the improvements that have been made and the opportunities that remain for Canada.
What do you identify as the main challenges for the Canadian mining industry going forward? How could they impact our competitiveness in mining and what must we do about it?
Mining is a strong and important sector for Canada, however it currently is facing many challenges from declining reserves, investor confidence, poor public image or the ability to gain license to operate. To add complexity, there is the looming skills shortage facing the industry. This is coupled with a general disengagement with its public and youth. There is growing concern that the Canadian minerals and metals sector will not have the skills it will require in neither new disciplines such as AI, IOT, or Big Data, nor in conventional, foundational skills such as metallurgy. Many of Canada’s mineral processing and metallurgical schools have transitioned to material science. Most recently, Dalhousie University announced its intent to discontinue its mining engineering program.
A problem that contributes to this level of disengagement is the lack of mineral literacy among our most important audience groups: investors, politicians, media and youth. Furthermore, Canadians are relatively unfamiliar with the industry and do not fully understand basic mining fundamentals, such as the simple reality that a rock does not make a resource. This is compounded by attitudes around mining that focus on persistent misconceptions, such as being a dirty, dangerous and dark industry — which is false. In fact, mining in Canada is safer than being a teacher.
“The lack of mineral literacy negatively affects the Canadian mineral and metals sector. Everyone will benefit from a greater understanding of the mining life cycle, from exploration through to value extraction, closure and recycling.”
There is an interconnected dynamic between public image, mineral literacy, investment and an engaged and skilled workforce of the future. For Canada’s future mining industry to be supported, whether through investment, program funding, education or public interest, positive, relevant and impactful messages and information must reach all segments of the Canadian demographic, but especially youth.
The lack of mineral literacy negatively affects the Canadian mineral and metals sector. Everyone will benefit from a greater understanding of the mining life cycle, from exploration through to value extraction, closure and recycling.Canada’s mining industry is one of the most innovative and safest in the world.
Declining, relevant education and mineral literacy will continue to hurt the Canadian industry. With dwindling funding, education and expertise in mineral processing and metallurgy, it will be even more difficult to extract value from Canadian mineral deposits in a cost effective and environmentally efficient manner.
“It will be imperative to reach the workforce and leaders of the future and to share the narrative on the role of mining in the reduction of climate change.”
Proactive communication strategies are required to empower the minerals and metals sector to share successes and best practices with leading relevant organizations, stakeholders and the public.It will be imperative to reach the workforce and leaders of the future and to share the narrative on the role of mining in the reduction of climate change.The World Bank has recently referred to this as ‘Climate Smart Mining’. With transparent, ongoing communication and industry demonstrations, we will see engagement bounce back.
What must the Canadian mining industry focus on to take an international leadership position with respect to environmental issues?
Historically, the global mining industry’s environmental performance has been poor, which has tarnished its reputation and painted it as being damaging and irresponsible. The remediation of environmentally impacted mining sites is a significant burden on communities, industry and governments. It is estimated that the liability of legacy mine sites in Canada, including the management of mining wastes, could represent an excess of $50 billion.
However, at the same time there are considerable metal value and by-product opportunities remaining in mine wastes across the country. The metal alone could be valued in excess of $50 billion. So, it is time for us to ask ourselves new questions: Can we repurpose, recycle or reuse these previously mined materials and reduce the environmental impact and liabilities associated with this waste?
“There has not been a major effort on circling back and reprocessing, recycling and repurposing mining and metal-bearing post-consumer waste. We should change the mindset by referring to these residuals not as waste but as ‘mined materials’.”
Minerals and metals offer huge potential in Canada’s transition to a low carbon and circular economy. The opportunity of reprocessing and repurposing mine waste is aligned with a circular economy approach. Showing leadership in this area could be an effective lever for the Canadian mining industry to build a strong, clean, green and responsible reputation.Conventional mining is focussed on finding and extracting resources from new deposits. There has not been a major effort on circling back and reprocessing, recycling and repurposing mining and metal-bearing post-consumer waste. We should change the mindset by referring to these residuals not as waste but as ‘mined materials’.In fact, after looking at the metals content in tailings ponds, we discovered that some of them contained higher grades than metals found in new mine sites. We must capture these resources and their value, while at the same time remediating the site and reducing the environmental liability. This is the concept of a fledging program under the Canadian Mineral and Metals Plan called ‘Mining Value from Waste’.
How do you envision the implementation of circular economy practices in mining? What role must governments play in this process?
While primary resource extraction will always be required, there is an opportunity to extract value from discarded mined materials and to look at increased metal recycling in order to incorporate greater circularity into our supply chains. As well, by building strategic and robust supply chains we can ensure that our mineral resources are fully utilized and maximum benefit is derived from these resources.
It is important to look at the full life cycle of minerals and metals, and incorporate all costs and opportunities for usage. Specifically, a life cycle assessment would examine environmental impacts associated with all the stages from raw material extraction through to materials processing, manufacturing, distribution, use, and disposal or recycling. Unfortunately, assessments are frequently siloed and focussed on tonnage rather than value and full-cycle environmental costs.
“Productivity alone is not a strategy. To permanently improve the Canadian mining industry’s competitive position, there needs to be focus on value extraction throughout the full mining life cycle. This will need to include direct and indirect, as well as short term and long term costs, impacts and benefits.”
Productivity alone is not a strategy. To permanently improve the Canadian mining industry’s competitive position, there needs to be focus on value extraction throughout the full mining life cycle. This will need to include direct and indirect, as well as short term and long term costs, impacts and benefits.
Governments are the custodians of Canada’s natural resources and responsible for their sustainable extraction and development. There is no one department or governmental organization responsible for ensuring the development or implementation of the full supply chain. An integrated, sustainable, value driven and circular approach for Canada’s mineral and metals supply chain is needed.
“There needs to be a plan in place that links competitiveness, environmental stewardship and the circular economy to provide the framework for decision-making as well as a set of guiding principles on priority steps to take.”
What this shows is that the mining industry, governments and other stakeholders need to have a focus on ending industry isolation and truncated or fragmented supply chains. There needs to be a plan in place that links competitiveness, environmental stewardship and the circular economy to provide the framework for decision-making as well as a set of guiding principles on priority steps to take.
How can the Canadian mining industry improve its performance in terms of getting innovative mining cleantech integrated into its operations as soon as possible?
When we look at the collected levels of innovation across the industry, it quickly becomes clear that whatever the Canadian mining sector has discovered to improve processes — from a technology that is more energy efficient or cleaner to manufacture — these innovations are not being implemented at the pace that they should.
The goal of the permitting process is to provide assurance to governments, stakeholders, landowners and communities that minimal harm will be done through the proposed mining development. Ironically, implementing innovative mining technology often halts during the environmental assessment of the permitting process. Frequently, the project plan put forward for permitting will include conventional technologies that can provide fairly adequate guaranteed results. There is no incentive to implement innovation, in fact there is frequently far greater risk to do so.
“Governments could help by providing incentives to support robust piloting and demonstration, leading to technology verification and, ultimately, adoption.”
Through increased piloting, testing and demonstration of new technologies, there could be greater performance assurance and confidence. However, this approach requires more capital. Governments could help by providing incentives to support robust piloting and demonstration, leading to technology verification and, ultimately, adoption.The goal is collective leadership with pooled resources to support the implementation of innovative technologies.
Which technologies and innovations excite you most when envisioning Canada’s mining future?
AI, machine learning and digital technologies will bring true advancements to mining; however, their applications are happening worldwide. Yes, we need to make sure we keep pace with the way these technologies are advancing, and they will definitely make a big difference for our sector, but it will also make a big difference in mining sectors across the world, so that is not necessarily going to elevate Canada’s position in the global context.
There will always be economic factors with which we cannot compete; it’s expensive to mine here; our labour costs are high; we do not have a great climate for most of the year, and we have a large territory with limited infrastructure, which is challenging for our supply chains.
“We need to build the Canada Brand. This means adopting technologies that can support that distinction — such as blockchain — to trace our commodities back to Canada, demonstrate secure, responsible and ethical sourcing, and reinforcing our brand.”
So, how do we differentiate ourselves? We have to focus on our strengths; the commodities we produce and how we produce them. We need to build the Canada Brand. This means adopting technologies that can support that distinction — such as blockchain — to trace our commodities back to Canada, demonstrate secure, responsible and ethical sourcing, and reinforcing our brand.
At the end of supply chains, it’s very difficult to identify the provenance of commodities. The ability to state the responsible provenance of commodities will bring a new value proposition to manufacturing companies seeking ethically and environmentally sourced minerals and metals.We need to focus on implementing a technology that will help us separate ourselves as a nation leveraging our Canadian mining brand. We will never address the global challenges we face today without a strong mining economy. So, not only does Canada need to invest in its expertise, but also in the innovations that are necessary to develop our resources in ways that are more ethical and sustainable than the rest of the global mining economy.
Part of the Future of Mining Series presented by: