Mining innovation: BRIMM’s Innovations in Decarbonization, Water Stewardship, and Mining Microbiome Research

6 mins read
Mining innovation: BRIMM's Innovations in Decarbonization, Water Stewardship, and Mining Microbiome Research

The Bradshaw Research Institute for Minerals and Mining (BRIMM) addresses the critical challenges facing the mining industry through innovative research and cross-disciplinary collaboration in the field of mining innovation. With global consumption of raw materials projected to rise significantly, the need for sustainable mining innovation is more pressing than ever. BRIMM’s research agenda spans several key themes, including green energy systems, mining microbiome, water stewardship, and healthy capital and biodiversity. These efforts aim to develop sustainable mining methods and decarbonization strategies that can meet the increasing demand for metals and minerals required by clean energy technologies. The institute’s work on the mining microbiome explores how microorganisms can help tackle environmental issues, while its focus on water stewardship addresses the critical need for sustainable water management in mining. With a strong network of experts and partnerships with industry leaders, BRIMM is leading the way in creating a sustainable future for mining. By leveraging cutting-edge research and innovative solutions, BRIMM aims to revolutionize the mining industry and contribute to global sustainability goals.

A lack of mining innovation threatens the energy transition

Mining Innovation and Decarbonization: Addressing Future Challenges with Sustainable Methods

The Bradshaw Research Institute for Minerals and Mining discusses its spectacular research agenda that sets out to tackle the difficult issues facing mining innovation.

World consumption of raw materials is set to rise by a further 60 % by 2060, having already increased fourfold since 1970, according to the United Nations.

We live in a material world and cannot avoid this reality. A new era for energy with clean technologies and decarbonisation requires massive amounts of mining, but it also requires novel mining methods to address mining’s legacy and future.

According to the International Energy Agency, the amount of metals and minerals required for each kilowatt of generation capacity has risen by 50 % since 2010, and electric cars require six times more minerals than traditional combustion engines.

One wind turbine requires 4. 7 tons of copper and 335 tons of steel, and to meet net-zero emissions goals until 2050, the world will need as little copper as humanity has mined since 1900.

Recent mining is extremely difficult due to the depletion of existing deposits, new locations that are environmentally and socially sensitive, increasing depths of mines, reduced grades, increasing energy and water requirements, and a small supply of appropriate skilled workers.

The mining industry is facing increased scrutiny and needs innovative solutions that understand the connected problems to sustainably meet the world’s demand for metal and minerals.

A novel research institute is rising to meet the challenges.

BRIMM: Pioneering Sustainable Mining Innovation through Cross-Disciplinary Research

The Bradshaw Research Institute for Minerals and Mining ( BRIMM) was founded in 2017 to create a new legacy for the mining industry.

BRIMM connects scientists, engineers, and social scientists across the University of British Columbia ( UBC ) to promote cross-disciplinary research spanning the entire life-cycle of mining, from early exploration to mine closure and rehabilitation.

With more than 300 years of combined expertise from its founder, Dr Peter Bradshaw, Director, Dr John Steen, and members of the Advisory Board, BRIMM has a strong network for making industry and scientific connections with groundbreaking research.

Research themes

BRIMM focuses on particular research themes to address the complex variety of issues facing the mining industry.

Research themes:
1. Green energy systems
2. Mining microbiome
3. Water stewardship
4. Healthy capital and biodiversity

Each theme is led by leading academics who focus their team on relevant research to deliver economic, social, and economic benefits for the mining industry.

Decarbonization in Mining: Innovative Approaches to Energy Efficiency and Sustainability

Mining consumes large amounts of energy. The entire mining industry consumes approximately 12 ExaJoules (EJ) per year or 3. 5 % of total final energy consumption worldwide, or 1961. 47 million barrels of oil equivalent (MBOE).

Comminution in mineral processing alone can use up to 1 % of total final energy consumption globally, similar to the energy consumed by 221 million normal United Kingdom homes.

The mining industry is under pressure to decarbonise its operations. Mining companies pledged to achieve net-zero emissions targets in the coming decades.

But, this commitment coincides with rising demand for minerals and metals for solar energy technologies while costs at mining operations are increasing due to declining ore grades and deeper mines. The industry ’s energy consumption is expected to rise, complicating efforts to achieve net zero emissions.

According to estimates from S& P Global Clean Energy Technology, the mining sector could use up to 180 TWh of more clean energy from the recent levels.

This research theme focuses on energy efficiency improvements, solar power generation, energy storage, renewable-powered transportation, carbon capture, and complete carbon accounting and reporting.

BRIMM’s approach emphasises a systems perspective on energy and carbon, recognising that each mine will require a tailored system of technologies to achieve decarbonisation.

The mining microbiome

For 300 years, scientists viewed microorganisms as prevalent but innocent or disease agents to be eliminated. But, new research is revealing how these microbes could help us tackle the mining industry ’s biggest challenges.

Most copper is refined through furnace smelting, which contributes to air and water pollution. But, about 20 % of the world’s copper today comes from hydrometallurgy, which uses powerful acids and, increasingly, bacteria that can naturally leach the red metal.

Some bacteria can convert selenium dissolved in water into a good form, which is easier to keep out of the water cycle.

Rio Tinto has supported many research to find biological ways to recover metals from mine-influenced water.

Some microbes can help suppress dust by conditional good sand particles up, making the air safer to breathe; others can help mining companies extract certain metals they weren’t looking for when, like rare earth elements that are vital to some green technologies.

There are an estimated nonillion bacterial microorganisms on Earth. This abundance surpasses the number of stars in the known universe, the number of neurons in our brains, and all of our synapses combined.

There is an entire micro-universe to explore, yet research labs have barely developed the capacity to explore and map this new frontier and understand microbes ’ capabilities.

To discover and track these organisms, the Canadian government’s Digital Supercluster initiative has formed the cross-industry Mining Microbiome Analytics Platform (M-MAP ). Teck, BGC Engineering, Rio Tinto, and Allonnia are participating, as well as the Centre for Excellence in Mining Innovation, Koonkie Canada, Genome BC, and UBC.

The partnership ’s goal is to extract DNA from 15,000 stone site water, rock, and soil samples, sequence it, and create an online platform for storing and analysing the data.

Water stewardship

Surface and groundwater are important resources for individual life and health. Mining activities have the ability to compromise the safety of these resources.

Mining consumes massive quantities of water. Water is essential to every stage of the mining cycle, from exploration to production.

The copper mining industry single withdrew over 1.3 billion m^3 of water in 2006, half of the water that London, England, consumes every day.

Nevertheless, the mining industry ’s need for water will conflict with communities. Managing and reducing the risks associated with water usage is a major priority for mining companies and communities.

According to the World Economic Forum, a shortage of clear fresh water presents major world, cultural, and economic risks over the next decade. By 2030, the world population is expected to reach 8. 5 billion and could face a water shortfall of 40 %.

Using worldwide data from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), at least 16 % of the world’s land-based critical mineral mines, deposits, and districts are located in areas already facing high or extremely high levels of water stress.

BRIMM is in a unique position to focus on water because of the broad expertise now there across the UBC campus. Lately, a cross-campus cluster was established, the Future Waters Research Excellence Cluster.

Healthy capital and biodiversity

An adult mining company ’s focus on the lowest-cost models may be missing its largest costs and opportunities.

Sustainability solutions in the mining and forest sectors are often studied in isolation, which provides a partial picture of mining’s true impact.

Greg Paradis’s research at BRIMM strives to develop a subtle understanding that balances higher costs against the broader benefits that those investments might offer.

Greg Paradis partnered with Newmont Mining to conduct a year-long study into nature-based decarbonisation opportunities across five American mining sites.

Paradis is taking a systematic approach to carbon-capture strategy, studying not only sequestration techniques but even biodiversity, job creation, and reconciliation opportunities for First Nations communities.

His approach is a multi-dimensional analysis that weighs a wide range of factors to create high-value, low-cost solutions to help mining companies stabilise their carbon-capture portfolios and minimise the cost of their decarbonisation commitments.

Paradis hopes to create a sustainable development framework that balances effectiveness, cost, economic impact, and social considerations.

A network for success

BRIMM continuously proves the value of its network and multiplied every dollar invested to date by at least threefold, leveraging small amounts of funding to obtain larger grants to support its research.

In six years, BRIMM has:
•    Delivered up to 10 times leverage for each invested dollar, resulting in$ 3. 5m in more research investments in 2023 only,
•    Funded 19 leading-edge projects based on four research themes,
•    Facilitated 1,000 learners from more than 50 countries  to participate in cross-disciplinary micro-certificates,
•    Developed an extensive network of mining experts, including an global board of advisors, to source ground-breaking ideas and provide direction,
•    Instigated three start-up companies.

How Copper Shortages Could Slow the Energy Transition - Bloomberg

An invitation to partner in mining innovation

Universities serve as hotbeds of innovation and entrepreneurship, nurturing a culture that encourages the exploration of new ideas and the creation of spin-off ventures based on cutting-edge research.

Industry collaborations with universities provide companies with access to a pool of talented people, such as researchers, scientists, and students, who can contribute innovative ideas, perspectives, and skills.

By partnering with universities, companies can tap into this entrepreneurial ecosystem and likely benefit from the commercialisation of research.

Material resources are fixed, but the potential for research and innovation is infinite. Contact BRIMM to work on the future of mining innovation.

Verónica Castro-Allende

With a rich background in urban technology and IoT, Veronica brings a unique blend of expertise and innovation to our platform. Her work focuses on integrating advanced engineering solutions into smart city infrastructures, emphasizing sustainable and efficient urban development. Her insightful contributions shed light on the future of urban living, blending technical prowess with practical urban applications

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