Canada courts technology for low-impact mining

By Dominic Ellis
Canada project aims to deliver Discovery Platform to help mining exploration companies precision-target deposits beneath the earth's surface

Canada's Digital Technology Supercluster has launched the Earth X-ray for Low-Impact Mining project.

The project aims to deliver a new Discovery Platform that will help mining exploration companies to precision-target deposits beneath the earth's surface in a way that changes the economics of discovery and increases the sustainable production of critical mineral resources needed to fuel the clean energy transition.

Led by muon tomography pioneer Ideon Technologies in partnership with Simon Fraser University (SFU), Dias Geophysical, Microsoft, Fireweed Zinc, and Mitacs, the project will enable mining exploration companies to identify density and magnetic anomalies with greater resolution and certainty up to 1 kilometre beneath the Earth's surface, much like X-rays and MRIs give us visibility inside the human body. The project also benefits from the direct involvement and support of BHP.

"As the world moves towards a low-carbon economy, global demand for critical minerals is increasing. Through this innovative project, the Digital Technology Supercluster is supporting the development of a first-of-its-kind, environmentally responsible mining technology that will position Canada as a world leader in responsible mining," said the Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry.

To power the global transition to electrification, wind, solar, nuclear, and other clean-energy technologies, production of many critical minerals and metals needs to increase by nearly 500% over the next 20 to 30 years. With most near-surface deposits already discovered, the mining industry is forced to search deeper underground in more difficult to reach locations. Traditional exploration methods involve extensive and environmentally invasive drilling, which often yields no results at a sizeable cost.

The Discovery Platform will feature state-of-the-art hardware and software, novel data inversion and integration techniques, advanced AI algorithms, and geostatistical methods to construct detailed 3D profiles of subsurface anomalies -- such as mineral and metal deposits, air voids, caves, and other structures. This new subsurface intelligence can positively impact the underlying economics of a very traditional industry, paving the way for low-impact mining exploration or, for some minerals, being able to mine without a mine.

"This project will generate new technologies and breakthrough approaches to help solve one of the oldest problems on Earth," said Gary Agnew, Ideon ceo and co-founder. "As co-innovators, we will deliver a solution to the global mining industry that will directly reduce the cost, time, risk, and environmental impact of finding new mineral and metal deposits, while dramatically increasing certainty and discovery rates in a sector that has been historically characterized by uncertainty."

Industry partners in the project will apply their deep expertise in exploration, geology, and geophysics to help inform product design and trials, economic value analysis, and commercialisation strategy.

Canadian mining junior Fireweed Zinc is part of the consortium as a co-development partner – testing, validating, and conducting deployments of the technology platform components as they are developed. "This project has the potential to accelerate the transformation of modern mineral and metal exploration, leading to definition of new mineral resources and economic growth in Canada and internationally," said Brandon Macdonald, Fireweed Zinc ceo. "We are thrilled to not only be able to access this game-changing technology before our peers, but also to be directly involved in making it happen."

BHP has committed to collaborating on the Discovery Platform as it is developed. BHP chief technical officer, Laura Tyler, said: "Technology will help us unlock the next generation of resources the world needs to support economic growth and decarbonisation. Through partnerships with technology innovators and others in the resources industry, we can help bring new technologies to market that will improve the precision, depth, and sustainability of exploration in Canada and globally. BHP has a long history and a growing presence in Canada, and we are pleased to join this collaboration to support the nation's resources sector."

The Earth X-ray for Low-Impact Mining project has a total investment of C$13,503,225 with C$7,923,711 invested by industry and C$5,579,514 co-invested through the Supercluster's Digital Twins program. Mitacs, a national research organisation that operates research and training programs in industrial and social innovation, is adding C$345,000 in net funding to support a team of post-doctoral researchers at SFU.

"The Digital Supercluster is proud to be working with such an amazing group of Canadian companies that are demonstrating a true commitment to environmental sustainability," said Supercluster ceo Sue Paish. "We are happy to provide the digital innovation ecosystem that has brought together Ideon, SFU, Dias Geophysical, Microsoft, Fireweed Zinc, BHP, and Mitacs, making it possible for Canada to advance world-leading research and accelerate transformation of the mining industry."

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