Will Greenland be the next frontier for connected and sustainable mining?

Will Greenland be the next frontier for connected and sustainable mining?

If you were to ask Canadians what countries border Canada, most would say the United States and stop there. They may find it interesting—and surprising—that Canada also borders Greenland. In fact, in the coming years, Canadians should pay increasing attention to our relationship with our northeastern neighbour as Greenland embarks on its economic transition to becoming a mining nation, while also growing its current industries such as fishing and hunting.

Greenland’s history and natural resources

Greenland—the world’s largest island—is an autonomous country within the Kingdom of Denmark. In 2008, Greenlanders voted to further increase their independence and to govern their own economy (except in the areas of foreign affairs, defence and monetary policy). At the moment, the Danish government is providing an annual subsidy to Greenland, which it plans to reduce over time through the development of Greenland’s mining industry.

Greenland is rich in natural resources and shares the Canadian Shield. The prospects of mining gemstones, gold, industrial minerals and metals, rare earth elements, uranium, oil and gas could increase in the coming years as climate change (inadvertently) makes these natural resources more accessible than ever. In 2013, Greenland signalled its intention to take advantage of its endowment of resources by getting rid of a law that prohibited the mining of uranium and rare earth minerals.

Nanlunaq gold mine in Greenland
The Nalunaq Gold Mine is Greenland’s first gold mine. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Path to prosperity through connected mining

While building Greenland’s mining industry as a means to achieve higher independence is a sound idea, according to The Brookings Institution, plans have stalled due to factors outside of Greenland’s control. Neither the Kingdom of Denmark nor Greenland are interested in mining without strong environmental stewardship.

“We strongly believe that mining in Greenland should be more environmentally friendly than traditional mining,” says Amanda Lapadat, trade advisor at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark. “We think that, along with strong environmental regulations, the Internet, state-of-the-art technologies and other innovations are the keys to creating connected mining operations that are more productive, more cost efficient and, eventually, highly sustainable.”

Internet of Things for connected mining

The Internet of Things (IoT) is the connectivity of objects, such as computing devices, machines, equipment and appliances, that enables these objects to be “smart” and to solve new problems for their users. For a primer, you may want to watch the following TED talk by Arlen Nipper, the co-inventor of MQTT, a leading IoT messaging protocol, who we interviewed for our insight paper “Mining and Metals + Internet of Things: Industry opportunities and innovation.”

As Arlen points out, some machines—especially those in industrial settings—are very sophisticated. So the issue is not so much that those machines are “dumb,” but that if they were “smart” and connected they could generate much more value than siloed, non-connected machines.

In our insight paper, we discussed this topic, as well as mining innovation, extensively. In particular, we viewed that IoT solutions can simultaneously enable the mining industry to address current challenges and capture new opportunities.

Challenges, opportunities and applications for IoT
Challenges, opportunities and applications for IoT. Source: MaRS Market Intelligence.

Making mines more green

Even the most avid proponents of mining will concede that traditional mining activities tend to result in significant environmental impact due to ecosystem risks, heavy footprints (for example, heavy energy and water use), mine closures and the generation of mine waste. While IoT solutions can certainly help—for example, our insight paper featured BESTECH’s NRG1-ECO, which can help reduce energy use—more can and must be done in order to create a greener mine. Frost and Sullivan, a leading research consultancy, offered the following six-point blueprint.

Focal points of green mining  Examples 
Utilizing less energy On-demand energy management; micro-grid; low power separation
Utilizing less fuel for transportation (hauling, for example) Optimize transportation routes; electric, natural gas or hydrogen cell-based vehicles
Reducing toxics Bioleach
Mine closures Bioremediation
Reducing emissions Pollution control; carbon sequestration
Reducing water use Wastewater processing; tailings remediation

Adapted from Frost and Sullivan.

“Canadian companies have been developing strong technologies and innovations that could make mining much more sustainable than before,” says Lynn Côté, sector advisor at Export Development Canada (EDC). “They could assist Greenland in building the greenest mining sites possible.”

Why mining matters

Anecdotally, young people—especially those who live closer to mining centres like Sudbury, Ontario—are turning to the mining and mineral sectors, despite recent industry woes. A gainfully employed mining professional can earn wages much higher than those in other sectors. Moreover, many modern-day technologies, such as Beats by Dre headphones, Toyota Priuses and the forthcoming Samsung Galaxy S6s, all require rare earth metals to function properly. As a recent Wired magazine article argued, we need Greenland mining if we want to keep our gadgets coming.

Canada as a partner of Greenland and Denmark

Without a doubt, Canada is a leader in mining. In fact, the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) hosts one of the world’s largest mining conventions annually in Toronto.

This Wednesday, March 4, 2015, during the PDAC 2015 Convention, the Embassy of Denmark, EDC, MaRS, the Northern Centre for Advanced Technology and natural resources industry innovators will join forces for a special event that will put a focus on mining technologies. The event will provide a forum for Canadian innovators to discuss with their Danish and Greenlandic counterparts how to work closely together as neighbours and partners to build mines that could both benefit Greenlanders from an economic perspective and limit ecological risks.

If you happen to be attending the PDAC 2015 Convention, we welcome you to swing by MaRS and join us for the event. To view programming details and register for the event, click here.

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