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Mining as a nation-builder

CEMI among six groups forming supercluster to bring clean Canadian mining expertise to the international market

For six mining groups in Canada that have joined together, including one in Sudbury, mining is a nation-building exercise they want to take to the world.

The hope is by joining together, they can qualify for government funding to help them support the mining industry on a holistic level.

Sudbury-based Centre for Mining Innovation (CEMI) is among the group that are pursuing a $200 million funding initiative to move their supercluster forward. Titled Clean, Low-energy, Effective, Engaged and Remediated (CLEER), to compete for funding though the federal government's Innovation Superclusters Initiative.

The are many reasons for bringing this supercluster together, explained Charles Nyabeze, director, government affairs for CEMI, all of them go back to making mining in Canada more competitive, cleaner, diverse and showing the public the importance of mining to the nation's economic stability.

“We created CLEER because we went to the mining groups and asked them what problems they were facing,” he said in an interview.

Those problems included:

– Lagging investment across the mining sector in business enterprise research and development. Many groups are outsourcing their research and development, limiting local development.

– Lack of capitalized organizations to serve as effective vehicles for collaborative mining innovation. Without these there are few – if any – mechanisms for sharing costs and risks associated with innovation, including mechanisms for pooling resources and sharing knowledge.

– Fragmentation of the Canadian mining innovation ecosystem, partially due to geographic dispersion of regional clusters and abundance of organizations devoted to innovation.

“We have the industry and customers telling us these are the problems, and the solution providers saying if you can solve these problems, we can move forward faster,” he said.

By forming a supercluster, Nyabeze said they can solve these problems, making it easier for groups to share ideas, as well as market Canadian mining innovations to the rest of the world as one organized group.

It's not as simple as touting mining, he said, it's about bringing different kinds of mining together: Sudbury has one type, B.C. has a different type, as well as Alberta with oil sands. Each one of those has regional clusters supporting their mining sectors. Sudbury, he says, is unique.

He pointed out one of the biggest drivers for the supercluster is getting cleaner technology out into the market, which will make them more productive.
“It's not just about being clean for the sake of clean, sometimes that can be unprofitable,” he said. “We are taking a balance between the clean solutions that will make a difference, as well as make a significant difference on the pocketbook. They are all driven by the bottom line.”

A supercluster will also help give smaller mining and innovation companies gain a foothold on the national and international stage.

To do that, they need a network spanning the nation, that includes all clusters in Canada.

“We will be making Canada a leader in clean mining technology,” he said.

The supercluster will also help diversify the industry by bringing all facets together under one banner.

Sudbury has historically had the capacity to house innovation, operations and education centres, he said, as well as welcome business looking to support the mining industry.

“These smaller companies are more nimble, able to try new things and move faster than the larger, international companies,” he said. “We want to prop up the smaller, local companies because we would like to be the place that houses the next Atlas Copco-sized company.”

They are also pushing for many other innovations, including diversity in the workplace.

As well, show the public the importance of mining to everyday life.

“We can't live without mining,” he said. “All industries need it. Machinery needs new metals. Agriculture, it needs mining. Every aspect of life runs on mining in some way.”

The group includes the Canada Mining Innovation Council, International Minerals Innovation Institute, Mineral Suppliers Trade Association, COREM, a mineral processing and analytics organization and CIMRE.

Now that the supercluster has been formed, Nyabeze says there are nine superclusters that have been listed to receive the $200 million federal funding. By March, 2018, five of those will be shortlisted and the hope is CLEER will be one of them.