"Injection hoisting technology would eliminate the need for haul trucks and eliminate the need for a major hoisting plant."
How has for Cementation Americas dealt with the impact of the pandemic?
Like any downturn or recession, capital projects were put on hold and many mines were forced to operate at a lower capacity. We are now seeing these projects restart or ramp up, so there has been an uptick in bidding and interest. However, the caveat is the potential for a second wave as Covid-19 cases.
In February 2020, Cementation Canada was awarded the Northern Ontario Heritage Corp. grant for its innovative way of transporting ore and waste rock from underground mines to surface. Can you explain injection hoisting to us?
Injection hoisting is about pumping ore to surface through pipelines, which lends itself to the concept of continuous mining rather than batch mining. It involves crushed material which is pumped through a pipeline in a medium, and our original proposal was to use a mud-style medium (a viscous material instead of water) that lifts the ore to surface. Once the ore gets to surface, it is separated from the medium and then goes on to the processing plant, and the medium is saved. The next step to develop the technology is a full-scale demonstrator model, and we would like to find a partner to put this technology in a mine and test it.
If injection hoisting becomes popular, how would it change underground mines?
The technology would eliminate the need for haul trucks and eliminate the need for a major hoisting plant. If you are accessing from a shaft you would still have a hoist to bring personnel and equipment up and down, but you would not need the large rock and ore hoist that we typically put in. One of Cementation’s core services is to design and install shafts that hoist ore and rock. This approach would eliminate part of our margin, by significantly reducing the capital spend in that area of the project. However, this is in line with the company’s Best for Project philosophy, where we look for what is best for the mine or for the industry, rather than for short-term financial gain.
What are some of the standout projects Cementation Americas has worked on in the last 12 months?
Glencore’s Onaping Depth in Sudbury is a standout project for the company. We first worked on the engineering of the project in 1998, and the shaft is actually being sunk now. This is an example of our focus on establishing long-term relationships, which in the case of Onaping Depth, we have continued throughout Falconbridge, Xstrata, and now Glencore ownership. Cementation has been working in partnership with the Kitikmeot Inuit community from Nunavut for 15 years, starting and still working at Diavik for Rio Tinto, and now working with them at Hope Bay for TMAC and Amaruq for Agnico Eagle. We also completed Resolution Mining’s deep number 10 shaft, and have been brought on to work on the number 9 shaft.
Cementation and TNT recently combined forces to carry out a successful material handling system project for Newmont at their Musselwhite Mine in North Western Ontario. The concept of providing a wider range of service offerings to Clients also provides the opportunity for turnkey and design build solutions.
How have health and safety protocols been adapted to the new way of working?
Injury prevention had previously taken priority over health, and we have seen huge improvements over the years with regard to injury frequency. Now, the pandemic has dramatically increased the industry’s focus on the health aspect, on the challenges of remote work, and on mental health issues. The systems and protocols to prevent workplace injuries have been adapted to prevent the spread of the pandemic.
Do you think we could see more streamlined processes to move from exploration through to production?
Canada has some unique challenges here. Mining works partly under both provincial and federal law, so the rules are different depending on the jurisdiction. Perhaps the most high-profile case of challenging project development is the Ring of Fire, which has been on the table for many years and involves a lot more than just a permitting process. Infrastructure, indigenous partnerships and community impacts all come into play. Location is particularly important. If you are looking at a drilling program in a well- established mining community that is one thing, but areas like the Ring of Fire are not as simple.
While every jurisdiction would like to speed up processes, if I take off my mining engineer’s hat and think as a father or grandfather, we do not want to speed things up to a point where mines are rushed and mistakes are made. Furthermore, as a tax-payer, why would I fund a mine where the stock holders and senior management are going to make all the money? Québec decided to take a stake in projects instead of simply funding them, which is an interesting approach from the perspective of a tax-payer.