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The Drift: Innovation network seeking world-class solutions for mining conundrums

Mining Innovation Commercialization Acceleration Network launches in Sudbury

Charles Nyabeze acknowledges that the mining industry retains, among many, an unsavoury reputation.

Chewed up landscapes, unsafe working conditions, and pollution have contributed to the sector’s muddied legacy.

But in the march forward to a cleaner, greener future, Nyabeze believes mining can actually be an antidote to the world’s environmental woes.

Batteries for electric vehicles, solar panels, wind turbines: their manufacture requires a range of critical metals and minerals, and there’s only one way to get them.

“We are realizing that the only way we can address the climate challenge is through how we utilize minerals and metals that come from the ground,” said Nyabeze, the vice-president of business development and commercialization at the Centre for Excellence in Mining Innovation (CEMI) in Sudbury.

“Mining is actually feeding the world and allowing the world to become this whole new other world of low-carbon economy.”

Yet, the industry is equally cognizant of a need to mine those materials in a cleaner, more efficient way, Nyzbeze said, and that’s where the Mining Innovation Commercialization Acceleration (MICA) Network can help.

Launched on Nov. 17, MICA is gathering innovators from across Canada with the common goal of developing and commercializing new and emerging technology for the mining industry. Areas of concentration include productivity, environment, energy, and smart digital.

Regional innovation centres, small and medium enterprises, academic organizations, researchers, and mining companies are all part of the growing network, which is based in Sudbury and led by CEMI.

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Rather than “reinvent the wheel,” Nyabeze said, MICA is primarily looking outside the sector — to forestry, agriculture, aerospace, financial tech and other industries — for existing or emerging technologies that can be adapted to mining.

“There’s an avalanche of technologies that mining doesn’t even know about; there is what I call a ‘great unknown’,” Nyabeze said.

“The mining industry globally is missing out on technologies that are coming from other sectors of the economy, and MICA wants to bridge that gap.”

The network has been years in the planning, and in July, CEMI received $40 million from the federal Strategic Innovation Fund, finally enabling it to launch. It’s the first mining network of its kind in Canada.

Operating under a tiered system, membership is available for students and professionals, organizations, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), exploration companies, and mining companies.

In the new year, MICA will issue its first call for proposals to members, and the successful applicants will be entitled to a portion of funding they can use to help them move their project forward.

Even those that don’t make the cut will have an opportunity to finance their projects. Nyabeze said MICA will access its network of contacts to get projects in front of investors that may be interested in backing the technologies.

Too many good ideas have been left behind, languishing in the “commercialization valley of death,” he said. MICA wants to rescue them, while also preventing others from ending up there.

“Innovators and technology developers are sometimes not known to enough of the mining companies and sometimes not known to the investors who are looking at investing in clean technologies,” Nyabeze said.

“So, the MICA platform, through our partnerships...we’re going to bring this technology to the light.”

A number of Northern Ontario mining service and supply companies are already members, including a few from Sudbury with which CEMI has worked in the past, he noted.

MICA isn’t the only way to accelerate a business idea, he said, but “the door is wide open for Northern Ontario SMEs to look at MICA as a vehicle to help them move their technologies forward.”

“We're looking to add fuel to your fuel tank; we want to add capacity to your abilities to move things forward.”

The Drift features profiles on the people, companies and institutions making important contributions to Greater Sudbury’s mining sector. From exploration, operation and remediation to research and innovation, this series covers the breadth of mining-related expertise that was born out of one of the world’s richest mining camps and is now exported around the world.