BY SCOTT HUNTER HADDOW
Buried deep below the earth’s surface is a potential solution to sustaining the mining industry in Sudbury and Northern Ontario for many years to come. The problem is getting to the solution.
The Deep Mining Research Consortium is hoping to develop and implement a research program aimed at addressing the challenges associated with mining at depths below the 2000-metre level.
“This program will be serious research in the current underground mines in order to get ready for mining at considerably deeper locations,” says Charles Graham, managing director of the Canadian Mining Industry Research Organization (CAMIRO).
The consortium, made up of private, public and academic partners, will be administered by CAMIRO. CAMIRO has been providing co-ordination services required for projects that have multiple researchers and multiple sponsors for about 15 years.
The Ontario Government is investing $3.5 million, through the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corp. (NOHFC) over five years. The money will be applied to costs related to research and development of pilot projects. Overall, the program is expected to cost about $14 million over the five years.
“Without some kind of innovative approach to new reserves, we will have a much smaller industry in a few short years,” says Graham. “We are talking about lifeblood here and sustaining our way of life.”
The first year will concentrate on deep-mine environment and ventilation research, material supply and inventory control systems and ground control research.
Graham believes the worker environment and the ability to stay in that environment is probably the first critical hurdle.
“There is no point in developing mining technology for that kind of location if you are going to get chased out every time you go in.”
Graham identifies rock stress, heat stress and the logistics of worker and material handling as three major problems facing deep-mining projects.
The rock has a load in it just by virtue of being that deeply buried.
“The rock can instantaneously fail when you expose it at that depth,” says Graham.
Finding more effective ways of cooling workers, the environment and equipment are concerns at depths of at least 2000 metres.
“The deeper you go, the hotter it gets.”
Graham says figuring out how to get workers to the face and getting muck away from the face in a more efficient manner, while making a profit is also a concern.
“The way mines are running now, we have maybe five to five-and-a-half hours of work at the face just because of travel time.”
In the end it all adds up, he says.
“Essentially, it is getting there, staying there and making money,” that the deep-mining project will address, he adds.
It is known there is significant ore located at greater depths, and in many instances the ore grade at deeper levels is higher than at the surface. Graham believes the program is the right thing to do and timing is right.
“If we do not put the energy into this kind of approach now, we will not have the elements in place when we need to go and do the deep mining.”
Having a better chance of knowing there is a future, reducing financial risk by doing the research and eliminating some of the unknowns are some of the immediate benefits of the deep-mining project. If successful, the future is the true benefit of the program.
“Ultimately, we hope the results are people that are working today can continue working down the road because we found a way to employ the reserves in the ground.”