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‘Mining’ our business

Engineering team developing world-leading sustainable drilling methods

special feature: Future NL

Part of a special feature focusing on how the Memorial community is contributing to the direction of Newfoundland and Labrador.

By Jackey Locke

A Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science research team is developing a more sustainable way to mine.

Working in tandem with Newfoundland and Labrador-based Anaconda Mining Inc., and keeping with the industry’s move towards sustainability, the researchers’ sustainable mining by drilling (SMD) method continues the movement by developing vein-type deposits that are exposed on the surface or in open pit mines as opposed to underground.

Some members of the SMD research team from left are: Jeronimo de Moura Junior, Rick Pilgrim, Dr. Stephen Butt, Justin Royce and Mohammed Said.
Some members of the SMD research team from left are Jeronimo de Moura, Rick Pilgrim, Dr. Stephen Butt, Justin Royce and Mohammed Said.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

There was a time when the size of the vein didn’t matter. However, modern mechanized mining methods have made many smaller or unfavourable oriented vein deposits uneconomical, which makes the SMD method much more important.

The SMD method is a two-pass drilling system. In the first pass, a pilot hole is drilled halfway between the hanging wall and the foot wall using directional drilling technology steered by sub-surface imaging.

In the second pass, hole-opening technology is used, which follows the original pilot hole and opens the vein up all the way from the hanging wall to the foot wall.

You can watch the process in the video below.

“Almost every company involved with gold mining has one, or more, zones with veins at the surface or within the walls and/or floor of an open pit that they’ve left alone because they’re too small or not in the right location for conventional methods,” said Dr. Stephen Butt, team lead.

Benefits of SMD

The SMD method is sustainable in several ways.

It reduces the mining operation’s environmental footprint; places operators in safe locations on the surface; moves cuttings to the surface as a slurry, which is a mixture of the cuttings, water and compressed air; and uses proven technology that has been adapted from other industries.

“We delineate, measure, develop and extract simultaneously, which has never been done before in the mining industry,” said Dr. Butt. “The cost to extract ore is about half per tonne, access areas not open to conventional mining can be utilized and we are leveraging existing mines for greater yields.”

Collaboration with industry

Dr. Butt developed the SMD method with Anaconda, the company that owns and operates the longest, continuous gold mine in Newfoundland and Labrador.

He began working with Anaconda Mining in 2015 after meeting its vice-president of research and innovation, Allan Cramm. The men discussed technical issues with drilling and blasting at Anaconda’s Pine Cove Mine, near Baie Verte, and on the broader issue of mining steeply dipping gold deposits that were uneconomical, which led to the current large-scale SMD project.

“Together with Memorial University we are well on our way to introducing one of the most disruptive technologies to be developed in the world for mineral extraction this year.” — Allan Cramm

For Anaconda Mining Inc., the collaboration with Memorial and Dr. Butt provided an answer to their needs by bringing the research and development expertise and resources to develop the SMD technology.

“Having access to Memorial students and faculty plus the tremendous inventory of modern equipment enables Anaconda Mining Inc. to be an integral part of one of the largest research groups in North America,” said Mr. Cramm.

“Most recently, Anaconda Mining Inc. was named the only Canadian-based finalist for #DisruptMining, a global competition attracting the best innovators in the world. Together with Memorial University we are well on our way to introducing one of the most disruptive technologies to be developed in the world for mineral extraction this year.”

Disrupt Mining Competition

The Disrupt Mining Competition encourages new ideas and technologies that aim to tackle some of the industry’s biggest challenges.

“While we didn’t win, it had nothing to do with any lack of disruption or any technicality,” said Dr. Butt. “Our SMD method is very disruptive. In fact, numerous companies approached us during and after the competition and expressed an interest in working with us.”

Dr. Butt says the team will continue to work on the SMD method in collaboration with Anaconda. While most of the development has taken place at Dr. Butt’s Drilling Technology Laboratory at Memorial, the work will move into full-scale SMD deployment and optimization at the Anaconda Mine Site in Baie Verte later this year.

The Canadian mining industry employs approximately 426,000 Canadians, and accounts for about 10 per cent of Canada’s gross domestic product.

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