Q&A: How MICA plans to drive innovation in the Canadian mining sector
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Q&A: How MICA plans to drive innovation in the Canadian mining sector

By Zachary Skidmore 04 Nov 2021 (Last Updated November 30th, 2021 15:00)

We speak to Charles C. Nyabeze of the Centre for Excellence in Mining Innovation about the Mining Innovation Commercialisation Accelerator.

Q&A: How MICA plans to drive innovation in the Canadian mining sector
Credit: Bishnu Sarangi from Pixabay.

To achieve greater sustainability and continued growth within the mining sector, it is vital to facilitate the adoption of innovative new technology.

We speak to Charles C. Nyabeze, VP, business development and commercialisation at the Centre for Excellence in Mining Innovation, about the launch of the Mining Innovation Commercialisation Accelerator and its potential to drive innovation within the Canadian mining sector.

Zachary Skidmore (ZS): What led to the creation of the Mining Innovation Commercialisation Accelerator (MICA)?

Charles C. Nyabeze (CN): The creation of MICA was influenced by the commercialisation gap, which has led late-stage technologies to die on the vine, influencing the creation of a program that can ensure that more emerging technologies that are mining-related can get operationalised. 

When you look at the commercialisation continuum, you’ll notice that early-stage technological development is heavily supported by various institutions, including government labs and academic institutions.

However, when it comes to late-stage technologies that have been validated to work, they do not receive the same support. Often, the work on these innovations has been mostly completed. However, the lack of support in supporting their deployment on mine sites has led the technology never to become operational.

MICA was explicitly created to be able to help close that commercialisation gap. 

ZS: What potential do you see it having in driving innovation within the Canadian mining sector?

CN: The potential for MICA is huge. Canada has an innovation ecosystem, which is very vibrant and spans from coast to coast. However, many of these innovations have failed to reach the mining sector. MICA is positioning itself as a conduit to take late-stage developed mining-related technologies, and technologies from other industries that have mining applications, to a place where they can be integrated into the mining sector. 

We want to harness the intellectual capacity and capabilities of the Canadian innovation ecosystem. And MICA is a vehicle to do that. MICA is going to connect that innovation ecosystem across the country so that we can start to leverage the capabilities and abilities that are grounded within the different provincial, regional centres across Canada. 

MICA is going to position the country to be able to leverage its innovation, capabilities, capacities, and assets to be that kind of the glue that binds the country together in how it gets connected in advancing innovation into the mining sector.

I’m not just talking about the Canadian mining industry. I’m talking about the global mining industry. So whatever technologies are developed and made in Canada will find a way into the Canadian and international mining ecosystems. 

ZS: How important is collaboration within this national network to achieving the goals of MICA?

CN: Collaboration is an accelerator, but coordinated collaboration is even better. MICA is a national network, so any innovation elements can be advanced faster if connected to complementary sorts of technologies or initiatives. MICA will not only advance technical projects but also look strongly at network building.

The other piece about collaboration, which is critical, is that when you look at how innovation is being adopted. Look at the mining supply chain. You will see that, from prospecting all the way to mine closure, rehabilitation, and being able to walk away, leaving the environment better than you found it, there are so many innovations happening all over the place.

MICA will be a platform that allows that level of communication or connectedness to happen across the supply chain. A good example would be a technology that is useful for exploration and pre-mine development, which can also be useful for the exploration of old tailings sites. So you can see that that collaborative atmosphere that we’re creating will allow all this to happen faster.

ZS: How central is Net Zero to MICA’s strategic agenda?

CN: I would like to see the word net zero utilised in the context of MICA, in that we are driving towards net zero. In other words, everything about our mindset is driving towards net-zero harm. I think we can have continued dialogue to ensure that people’s mindsets are always thinking about reducing energy consumption and wastage; how to reduce air pollution and water contamination; how to reduce the impact on infrastructure and minimise the consumption of resources.

With MICA,  we want to ensure that we meet those targets that are so important to allow us to support a cleaner industry and cleaner communities. 

ZS: Supporting market acceptance is key within MICA’s remit. How will CEMI support these mining innovations and make them commercially viable to achieve a level of operational integration into day-to-day mining activities?

CN: The convenience of technology is its ability to have been proven to work in an operating environment as close to real-life as possible. So, within MICA, we identify testbeds, living laboratories where technologies that people are supporting within the maker network will have that exposure so that we can demonstrate value. 

I think the other piece is that the market acceptance accelerates when you can start to integrate other technologies that are also emerging, and not just going with what we call point solutions or a corporate solution, where solutions are just sort of targeting one little area.

Technologies that are all sort of linked and integrated in some way so that when you bring them to the table for integration, it’s not that big of a headache. So, I think the market acceptance will come from the platform raising awareness of what technologies are coming. 

The last piece is that we don’t want technologies that create a perfect storm for failure in the future, simply because someone didn’t think through the impact of technology, three steps removed from what the technology is being implemented. 

So, within the MICA network, there will be the ability to look at technologies more from a holistic standpoint. And not just to look at technologies as single-point solutions that do have benefits, but what the benefit of that solution will be across the entire value chain.

The one last piece I’ll say is that the small to medium-sized enterprises, the SMEs, the supplies, etc., companies are pushing the envelope for innovation. These are the kinds of companies that we are really interested in bringing to the table to get exposure to the mining companies.