Mining research and innovation at CanmetMINING
Natural Resources Canada’s CanmetMINING conducts leading-edge research in mining. Find out what CanmetMINING is doing to make Canada’s mining industry innovative and sustainable. Explore its programs in critical minerals (including battery minerals), efficient mining technologies and programs to lessen environmental impacts and adapt to a changing climate. CanmetMINING works in partnership with industry, academic researchers and other government laboratories.
On this page
- Critical minerals
- Efficient mining practices and technologies
- Climate change and mining
- Responsible mining
- Specialized services to industry
CanmetMINING is a centre of excellence in research on critical minerals. These minerals are used in renewable energy and clean technology, such as advanced batteries, permanent magnets, solar panels, wind turbines and small modular reactors. They are also used in advanced manufacturing, including defence and security technologies, semiconductors and consumer electronics and critical infrastructure.
Through a research, development and demonstration (RD&D) program, CanmetMINING is:
- developing green, innovative processing technologies
- helping Canadian critical mineral projects go into production
- developing Canadian value chains (mineral extraction, intermediate processing, advanced manufacturing and recycling) for critical minerals
Next-generation batteries are needed for green technologies, such as solar panels and electric cars. The minerals needed for these batteries include lithium, nickel, cobalt, graphite and vanadium. Among its many projects to develop these minerals, CanmetMINING is researching how to produce lithium-bearing minerals needed for batteries in an energy-efficient way. It is looking at how to more effectively extract lithium directly from brines, which are waters with a high concentration of salts. It is also developing a clean system to purify graphite.
Value from waste
Waste from existing mines often contains valuable minerals that were not extracted using conventional methods. CanmetMINING is determining the critical minerals found in mine waste across Canada. It is looking at how these critical minerals could be recycled from mine waste. It is also looking at critical minerals in old batteries and electronics from businesses and households, called post-consumer waste, to see whether these could be recycled.
Rare earth elements and other critical minerals
Rare earth elements are a group of 17 elements, including the lanthanide series in the periodic table of elements, together with scandium and yttrium. They are key components in many of the electronic devices that we use in our daily lives. CanmetMINING is researching new ways to produce these elements at a competitive cost.
Efficient mining practices and technologies
Using new technologies and learning best practices can make mining more efficient, lowering costs and benefiting the environment by using less energy. New technologies must be safe and ready to use, to minimize the risk for mining companies and their staff, as well as for the environment.
CanmetMINING is conducting research to develop digital tools to help companies navigate the regulatory processes in starting a mine. These tools will also make information about mines and mining easier to access for decision-makers, planners and the public. CanmetMINING is also developing tools to monitor environmental contaminants in real time.
Extreme mining environments
Many mines in Canada are very deep in the ground, posing challenges to extracting minerals and to workers’ safety. Innovative technologies can help find solutions to these challenges. That’s why some of CanmetMINING’s research and development focuses on ways to break rock underground without explosives. It is developing hoisting technologies that safely and efficiently bring ore, equipment and people to the surface. CanmetMINING is also investing in technology to monitor and manage ground stresses and seismic events, which can damage mines and threaten workers’ safety.
Climate change and mining
CanmetMINING is conducting research to benefit the environment, communities and economies. This includes finding ways to adapt mining processes to climate change and reducing the environmental impact of mining.
Climate change adaptation
Like many aspects of Canadian society and industry, mining must adapt to climate change. CanmetMINING is working to help industry adapt at all stages of the mining process, from developing new mines to reclaiming closed mines. Some examples of CanmetMINING’s research in this area are:
- Improving performance of organic covers for mine site reclamation:
Organic covers are used to prevent the exposure and contamination of certain metal-rich wastes/tailings to nearby ecosystems. However, organic covers are also vulnerable to changes in climate due to the sensitive microbial communities that inhabit them. For example, high temperatures can cause microbial communities to decompose organic covers at an increased rate, which could leave the waste/tailings at risk of becoming exposed. Therefore, it is important to understand and evaluate the reaction of different types of organic covers to changing climatic conditions.
- Improving predictive tools and databases for environmental assessments of new mine projects:
Mining operations produce a large amount of environmental and geochemical data. This kind of data could be very useful for informing regional environmental assessments and federal/provincial mining impact assessments. However, in order for data to be used in that way, it must be accessible, well-documented and reliable. That is why CanmetMINING is working in collaboration with others to develop a public-facing environmental geochemistry database that could be used by impact assessment reviewers and regulators, communities, consultants and industry to make informed decisions about the effects of mining operations on the planet.
- Finding better ways to monitor and predict dust from mine sites:
When dust from mining operations escapes and travels to surrounding areas, it might contaminate the food and water sources of nearby communities. With climate change, warmer and drier conditions could make dust a bigger problem. Dust monitoring guidelines do exist, but they are not tailored to the diverse ecosystems found in Canada. There is a particular lack of research on the effects of mine dust on Arctic ecosystems. Therefore, we need improved methods for measuring, monitoring and modelling dust in specific environments, such as the Arctic, to better manage ecosystem risks in changing climate.
Climate change mitigation
As well as adapting to climate change, the mining industry can take steps to limit its greenhouse gas emissions in order to reduce its contribution to climate change (mitigation). CanmetMINING is carrying out research to decrease carbon dioxide emissions. It is finding technologies that make the most efficient use of energy and generate the smallest carbon footprint. This includes recovering waste heat produced during mining to improve energy efficiency. Hydrogen fuel, a much lower-carbon solution, is being used in mining. CanmetMINING is supporting the development of new codes, standards and regulations to help companies transition to hydrogen technologies.
CanmetMINING is working on projects to ensure that mines are managed responsibly. Research under this theme focuses on:
- returning mining lands to functioning ecosystems for potential economic, environmental and community benefits
- improving information for more effective regulations and for use in environmental impact assessments
- mitigating environmental impacts through a reduction in waste, contamination and greenhouse gas emissions (see Climate change and mining, above)
Read more about what Natural Resources Canada is doing to promote responsible mining, including environmental, social and governance aspects.
Specialized services to industry
Learn more about CanmetMINING’s specialized services for the mining industry.
CanmetMINING works in partnership with:
- other Canmet research centres, such as CanmetENERGY and CanmetMATERIALS
- academic researchers
- other research organizations
- other provincial and federal government bodies
CanmetMINING is the federal member of the Green Mining Innovation Intergovernmental Working Group (GMI-IGWG). The working group is composed of members from federal, provincial and territorial governments. It provides advice and strategic direction and helps guide collaborative work on green mining innovation.
The working group has set up a network of organizations and a website (Assistant to Mining Innovation) to foster green mining collaboration and innovation.
For publications from CanmetMINING, see:
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