ARCHIVED - Sustainable Development

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Report on Plans and Priorities 2011-2012
Electronic Layer of Reporting
Elements of NRCan's Sustainable Development Strategy

Section 4 - Natural Resources Canada Sustainable Development Initiatives Not Captured Under the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy

Context

Sustainable development is the cornerstone of NRCan’s mandate, and consequently, the department designs its initiatives to achieve its vision to “Improve the quality of life of Canadians by creating a sustainable resource advantage”. Many of the department’s activities and initiatives clearly contribute directly to the themes, goals and targets of the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy. Nevertheless, not all of the departmental activities could be captured within the framework of targets articulated by the FSDS. The list of initiatives contributing to sustainable development but not captured under the FSDS is too extensive to describe in this section. Therefore, NRCan has chosen to highlight only one such initiative.

While the NRCan Program Activity Architecture Sub Activity 2.2.2 - Green Mining Initiative (GMI) has been mapped to two FSDS Implementation Strategies, the specific work described in those cases (scoop tram) is a small component recently brought under the umbrella of the GMI. NRCan would like to take this opportunity to elaborate on the details of the whole Initiative, as it contributes to the economic and environmental pillars of sustainable development, and indirectly supports the social pillar.

Description - Green Mining Initiative

Recognizing the need for innovative technological solutions to advance sustainable mining, the Green Mining Initiative (GMI) was launched in 2009 as a proactive effort to improve Canada’s mining environment performance. GMI research aims to find alternative means for waste disposal, reduced water use and protection of air quality at all stages of the mining cycle.

The four pillars of Green Mining are:

  • Footprint reduction;
  • Innovation in waste management;
  • Mine closure and rehabilitation; and,
  • Ecosystem risk management.

GMI develops knowledge and innovation to:

  • reduce the environmental burden of mining for the benefit of future generations;
  • promote a strong, socially responsible economic performance that will help the mining sector support sustainable communities;
  • support effective policy and regulation;
  • design equipment aimed at stimulating Canadian innovation expertise and export; and
  • take advantage of clear technologies market opportunities.
Non-Financial Performance Expectations

The Green Mining Initiative will improve the mining sector’s environmental performance through knowledge transfer assets and green technologies. Performance indicators are:

  1. Number of publications on research and development (mid and year-end reviews)
    • Target: 20 publications (March 2012)
  2. Number of projects completed jointly with industry and government stakeholders (mid and year-end reviews)
    • Target:14 projects completed (March 2012)
  3. Number of green mining technologies transferred (5 year)
    • Target: 1 license and/or 1 patent (Match 2012)
Contributions to Sustainable Development

GMI contributes to broad Government of Canada areas of environmental focus such as addressing climate change and air quality, maintaining water quality and protecting nature.GMI takes a full life-cycle approach to greening mining operations, from design to closure of a mine site. While mining minerals and metals economically, the long-term vision is to leave behind only clean water, rehabilitated landscapes and healthy ecosystems.

Footprint reduction includes finding ways to minimize the creation of environmentally hazardous and costly mining waste. CANMET-MMSL is experimenting with explosives-free rock breaking technologies, which cause unnecessary rock breakage of waste material. Using electricity to heat the vein containing valuable minerals creates micro-stress, making small cracks in the rock, so the ore breaks off in small flakes. This is a promising method for reducing the amount of material that needs to be hauled to the surface, treated and disposed of in the environment. Energy is saved both in handling less rock from the mine and in treating these tailings at the end of the mine’s economic life-span.

Since it is not possible to completely eliminate mine waste, GMI research also focuses on better managing and disposing of mine waste. This involves preventing and treating acid-related drainage, minimizing and reprocessing waste and developing alternative waste disposal technologies. NRCan is also advancing zero-discharge processes by “re-mining” existing waste materials to recover valuable metals and minerals. One project developed a process to recover approximately 80 percent of the zinc from water treatment sludge, which is the precipitated 'mud' where contaminants settle.

To understand the ecological impact of mine waste, GMI is examining metal toxicology, metals in soils and the biological impacts of submerged tailings. While there is a good understanding of the actual chemistry of waste, less is known about the impacts of waste on ecology, flora and fauna.

GMI also builds on the National Orphaned and Abandoned Mines Initiative to ensure that they do not leave an ecological footprint. GMI is exploring technologies for mine rehabilitation, habitat restoration, ecological reclamation and climate change adaptation by the mining industry.

Finally, through Green Mines - Green Energy, a multi-stakeholder initiative launched in 2007, NRCan examined the question of how to handle mine tailings — which become acidic when exposed to oxygen and water — and prevent vegetation from growing. Researchers found that applying organic waste from communities and pulp and paper mills to former tailings sites provided a viable soil on which biofuel crops like canola, corn and soy could be grown.