The $6.7-million collaborative R&D initiative managed by the Centre for Excellence in Mining Innovation (CEMI) continues to attract interest. The project – Smart Underground Monitoring & Integrated Technologies (SUMIT) – is a six-year program led by Laurentian University in partnership with Queen’s University and University of Toronto. It came to a conclusion in June 2016.
“This has proven to be a significant program for CEMI in that it has enabled us to demonstrate that collaboration can happen in the mining industry, not only among the mining companies themselves but with universities and government,” states Damien Duff, vice-president, Geoscience & Geotechnical R&D, CEMI, who adds SUMIT has resulted in some very high-level accomplishments from both a geotechnical and energy-optimization standpoint.
Started in 2010, the SUMIT initiative came out of a series of six workshops that involved industry researchers and participants from all over the world. It focused on three challenges associated with deep underground mining: Rock-mass characterization (to anticipate risks and interpret dynamic processes); enhanced mine development (for faster mine construction and increased economic returns); and sustainable deep mines (though energy optimization and underground environmental controls).
Getting the level of collaboration among academia, industry and government that was required to make the SUMIT initiative a success involved a fair bit of resources and energy.
“The mining industry at the time wasn’t doing so well,” explains Duff. “The crash began in 2008 and continued through to 2012. It wasn’t the optimal time to get the mining industry to contribute funding for the project. There was also some effort involved in getting the industry researchers to work with industry and collaborate among themselves. There may have been some challenges at the outset but once we had the processes in place, everyone came through and saw the benefits of the program.”
As a result of this intensive level of collaboration, SUMIT proved to be a highly successful initiative on several fronts.
“SUMIT has made several significant R&D advances which are sure not only to help the mining industry deal with ground stability-related issues at depth but to optimize its energy usage at the same time,” states Duff.
Among the extensive list of geotechnical accomplishments made through SUMIT are:
- New industry guidelines for the selection of ground support elements in underground mines;
- New software tools facilitating the selection of optimal ground-support strategic designs based upon existing or anticipated rock-mass conditions;
- New ideas for tools and techniques to allow the use of geophysics as a proxy to monitor stress distribution;
- Advanced techniques for the measurement of change using LiDAR and fiber optics-based strain-measurement tools
- Development of the first dynamic (time variant, time stamped) 3D deep-mine model through the integration of geology, physical rock properties, infrastructure, production and backfill data; and
- Advancement in the state-of-art and state-of-practice techniques for using continuum numerical models to replicate rock-mass deformation and a demonstration of their ability to replicate actual behaviours observed in-situ.
Several accomplishments were also made on the energy management front, including:
- Development of optimized cooling strategies for natural heat-exchange areas using computational fluid dynamics modeling; and
- Demonstration of how Hydraulic Air Compressor (HAC) technology could one day be used to provide an energy-efficient and cost-effective way to cool mines.
In the end, the SUMIT initiative involved 98 highly skilled technical people made up of research leads, students, post-doctoral fellows and other expert professionals. It entailed 959 student hours of in-mine work at four test sites. And, it has already resulted in the spin-off of a new company, growth for existing companies and the filing of new patents for new products ready for commercialization.
Part of the SUMIT legacy is the breadth and number of innovations developed that have the potential to benefit the deep underground mining industry. This was none more apparent than in the final SUMIT workshop, held in June 2016.
“We had over 100 people attend, among which were 20 SMEs from the mining technology space,” states Duff. “All were eager to hear the final report on the research that was conducted.”
According to Duff, CEMI is a strong proponent of the adage that innovation occurs only when research is implemented. To that end, these 20 SMEs or “commercializers” who are in the business of developing technologies for the mining industry are currently being queried by CEMI to see if they intend to work with researchers to try to commercialize any of the technologies developed and, if so, how CEMI can continue to play a role to help facilitate that and/or locate funding.
“Right now, we’re looking at ways to connect the researchers with industry to help fund initiatives that hold the potential to further benefit the deep underground mining industry,” concludes Duff.