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Judges' Choice Award: CEMI

"By working with global mining companies, you also get a network of challenging problems and opportunities that we can bring back to smaller businesses in the communities."

It's the slightest difference in the use of the lowly preposition, but it makes a big difference to the mandate of Sudbury's Centre for Excellence in Mining Innovation (CEMI).

"One of the things most people don't realize is that CEMI's not a Centre of Excellence in Mining Innovation — there are lots of centres of excellence — it's a centre for excellence," emphasized Peter Kaiser, founding executive director and CEO.

"CEMI itself will have no researchers, and we'll never have a building full of research labs—that's done somewhere else," he mused. "Our mandate is to help the community, universities, businesses and mining companies to achieve excellence in innovation."

That means more than just conducting research, Kaiser said. Development and implementation are key to innovation, since even the greatest idea remains just an idea if it sits untested on a shelf somewhere.

Since its inception in 2007, with seed funding from Vale, Xstrata Nickel and the provincial government, CEMI has guided numerous ideas off the shelf and into practice. Aided by some of the biggest names in mining, CEMI has helped small businesses achieve success in projects that improve efficiency in mine development, advance sustainability and increase safety.

A standout initiative is the ventilation-on-demand (VOD) project, which used Vale's Coleman Mine and Xstrata Nickel's Nickel Rim South Mine for field study and data collection to determine the energy-saving benefits in the effective use of air. The result was a unique, community-based project that brought together a number of small enterprises, and is being used as a model for stage two of the VOD program.

A vote of confidence in CEMI recently arrived in the form of two provincial funding packages: a $2.24-million grant to advance the Smart Underground Monitoring and Integrated Technologies (SUMIT) for Deep Mining program, which innovates in deep mining, and an $823,000 grant to establish a Research Chair for Holistic Mining Practices.

The SUMIT program is designed to bring together the best researchers from Laurentian University, Queen's University and the University of Toronto to work on smart engineering technologies that will reduce costs and increase efficiencies in deep mine development. Kaiser said CEMI has been making an effort to work with a variety of companies to transition the theoretical ideas into practice.

The goal is to use Sudbury's mines as living labs so that the research is done here and gives Sudbury-area innovators an advantage over their global competitors.

The role of Research Chair for Holistic Mining Practices has been bestowed on CEMI vice-president Douglas Morrison, who will help shape the future leadership of the organization in addition to providing guidance on a new, holistic approach to mining.

Rather than focusing solely on the technical and mechanical aspects of mining, a holistic approach takes into account the full picture: cost reduction, safety, the environment, permits, First Nations issues and more. The aim is not to duplicate what's already happening, but build on industry ingenuity.

After starting out with an $18-million funding commitment for investment in innovative projects, CEMI has grown that commitment to $40 million. The organization's success to date has allowed it to attract Rio Tinto and $10 million to develop the Rio Tinto Centre for Underground Mine Construction to conduct research into speeding up mine development.

Kaiser is pleased with the progress, but anticipates further growth based on the opportunities still available to be explored.

"By working with global mining companies, you also get a network of challenging problems and opportunities that we can bring back to smaller businesses in the communities," he said.

Not all that money will be spent in Sudbury, but the opportunity to make contacts between innovators, small business and the mines will bring benefits to the area that will be integral to the future of mining in the Sudbury basin. And that can be just as important as the financial component: if you have money, but no one to innovate, "it's no good," Kaiser said.