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Thunder Bay joins the mining innovation mix

Sudbury technology group makes inroads into northwestern Ontario with strategic agreement
Goldcorp teleremote centre T-Bay
Newmont Goldcorp's teleremote operations centre in Thunder Bay (supplied)

The Thunder Bay Community Economic Development Commission (CEDC) wants to establish some mining research and innovation capacity in northwestern Ontario.

The CEDC has inked a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Sudbury’s Centre for Excellence in Mining Innovation (CEMI) to bring their technical expertise to the region.

“We have a number of mining projects in northwestern Ontario and some of them may not get off the ground unless we have innovation,” said Doug Murray, CEO of the city’s development commission.

Murray, who first met CEMI president Doug Morrison six years ago, said the Sudbury mining innovation group has steadily been making inroads into the northwest.

The CEDC has been acting as a conduit to connect them with various individuals and companies.

Established in 2007, CEMI’s mandate is to “lead step-change innovation” in the mining industry. Their primary focus is built around coming up with new processes and best practices in the area of deep mining, mine productivity, energy reduction, smart technologies, safety and environment.

For most of its existence, CEMI’s focus has been on the Sudbury Basin and the Timmins mining camp. Now the group is looking to roll out its expertise across Canada, and even globally, through a network of innovation clusters.

To do this, CEMI is applying to the federal Strategic Innovation Fund to create a Mining Innovation Commercialization Accelerator to find ways to commercialize new innovative ideas. 

Murray said the commission signed on with CEMI to throw the organization’s support – and that of the business community – behind this endeavour.

“I want us to be able to participate in this. I think it’s good for Thunder Bay and northwestern Ontario.”

Murray said there are possibilities that CEMI could help local suppliers with innovative products and processes but, more importantly, their expertise will be key to helping some mines with site-specific challenges.

Murray points to the recently revealed discovery of a new ore body at the extreme depths of Kidd Mine in Timmins.

New leading-edge solutions will be required to access that mineral resource in a harsh environment that’s considered inhospitable to use conventional mining techniques.

“That’s an example where innovation will be required or that mine closes.”

In the James Bay lowlands, mining the nickel and chromite deposits in a manner that doesn’t harm the environment poses its own unique set of challenges.

Closer to home, Newmont Goldcorp runs its Musselwhite Mine from its teleremote operations centre in Thunder Bay.

Murray wonders what similar opportunities could be realized and where can that lead?

Murray would like to eventually grow Thunder Bay’s mining research capacity into something that’s approaching the scale of Sudbury’s. He hopes this agreement opens the door for CEMI to establish an office presence with technical staff stationed in the northwest.

“If we don’t participate in this, nothing changes.

“I think there are opportunities here, and as more development and mines come on, that opportunity will grow.”