Posts Tagged: Lassonde Institute of Mining

The search for a cleaner solution to crushing rocks

Professor Erin Bobicki (MSE, ChemE) wants to decrease the energy required for crushing rocks by 70%. (Photo courtesy of Erin Bobicki)

Whether it’s copper for electric cars, or lithium for cellphones, many everyday technologies and devices are made of or rely on metals. But mining and extracting these valuable commercial minerals can come at a catastrophic cost to the environment.

The process of comminution — crushing and grinding billions of tonnes of rocks a year — is estimated to account for more than four per cent of the world’s energy consumption. Professor Erin Bobicki (MSE, ChemE) wants to decrease the energy required for comminution by 70 per cent.

She and her collaborators in academia and industry are developing a cleaner solution using microwave technology.

“Metal is the basis of almost all the things we know and love — we need mineral processing to function as a society. Unfortunately, it’s extremely energy inefficient. If we can change that, it would make an enormous difference in mining,” says Bobicki, who has researched microwave applications in mineral processing for more than a decade.

Bobicki is leading a team to compete in the Crush It! Challenge, a competition launched by Natural Resources Canada to develop innovative solutions to reduce the energy used for crushing and grinding rocks in the mining industry. Her team, CanMicro, has just been named one of six finalists in the competition, receiving $800,000 in funding to pursue their solution.

By November 2020, the team who demonstrates the most energy savings will receive a $5 million grant to commercialize their technology.

CanMicro’s technology aims to reduce the amount of energy involved in the grinding process by exploiting the fact that valuable minerals tend to be most responsive to heat. When exposing rocks to high-powered microwaves, this variability in thermal response allows rocks that contain valuable minerals to be sorted out from those that don’t.

“That means you don’t grind the ones that don’t contain anything valuable — there’s energy savings right there,” she says.

The intense blast of heat also applies stress and strain on the rocks that generates fractures across the mineral grain boundaries, which also reduces the energy required for grinding.

“We don’t have to grind it as fine because what we’re interested in has already been liberated,” says Bobicki. “Yet another opportunity for energy savings.”

The use of microwaves in the mining industry has long been considered a niche application, says Bobicki. That’s mainly because of the hurdle in developing the technology at a larger scale to handle a high tonnage of rocks.

“That’s what excites me about this project,” she says. “The objective is to scale up.”

CanMicro — which includes Professor Chris Pickles from Queen’s University as well as industry members at Kingston Process Metallurgy, Sepro Mineral Systems, COREM and the Saskatchewan Research Council — now have 18 months to test and pick the right microwave equipment before building a pilot plant in Kingston, Ont.

“I think we have a lot of risks to overcome, since this technology has never been scaled up before. But we believe that we’re going to get much better results at high power and achieve significant energy savings,” says Bobicki. “I think our chances of winning are very good.”

Beyond the competition, Bobicki is excited to see the potential of this technology one day applied, not only at a large scale, but across the mining industry.

“You can’t apply this technology to all rocks but imagine if it worked for half of the ores and we were able to reduce half of the energy required for breaking the rocks — that’s huge at a global scale,” says Bobicki.

By Liz Do

This story originally appeared on U of T Engineering News

Lassonde Mineral Engineering Students take gold – 4 oz of gold

Winning Lassonde Mineral Engineering Team (Zawwar Ahmed (MinE Year 3), Dalton Veintimilla (MinE Year 4), Ice Peerawattuk (MinE Year 4) and Jihad Raya (MinE PEY)) with Candace MacGibbon, CEO of INV Metals (at centre).

This weekend, Zawwar Ahmed (MinE Year 3), Ice Peerawattuk (MinE Year 4), Jihad Raya (MinE PEY) and Dalton Veintimilla (MinE Year 4) successfully defended their first place title in the Goodman Gold Challenge (GGC) in Sudbury.

The GGC is a competition at Laurentian University that invites undergraduate students to assess three gold companies as investment opportunities. In teams of four, students recommend one of the three companies to a top-tier client.

The Lassonde Mineral Engineering team won the cash equivalent of four ounces of gold for their outstanding use of their academic and practical skills at the GGC.

Congratulations from the Department of Civil & Mineral Engineering. Keep up the good work!


U of T Mining and Mineral Engineering ranks top 10 in the world

Psychology research at the University of Toronto is ranked second in the world – just after Harvard University – in a new ranking of subjects by the independent Shanghai Ranking Consultancy.

In addition to psychology, U of T also ranked third in medical technology, fifth in public health, sixth in human biological sciences and ninth in biotechnology, finance, and mining & mineral engineering in the report.

The 2017 Shanghai Subject Ranking, released earlier this week, surveyed more than 500 top global universities in 52 subject areas.

Overall, U of T ranked in the top 25 for 25 different subject areas – only four universities were ranked in more subjects (Harvard, Stanford, Berkeley and MIT).

Among Canadian universities, U of T was ranked first (or tied) in 28 of the 46 subjects it was ranked in.

“It’s wonderful to see the continued recognition that the University of Toronto is one of the few institutions in the world with strength across the full breadth of areas of scholarship,” said Vivek Goel, U of T’s vice-president of research and innovation.

The 2017 Shanghai Subject Ranking looks at natural sciences, engineering, life sciences, medical sciences and social sciences, with the majority of its subjects falling under engineering. It uses bibliometric data as the source for the majority of its indicators, complemented by data on faculty honours and awards in selected subjects.

Each of the subjects have a differing mix of indicator weightings, thresholds for inclusion and depth to the rankings depending on the characteristics of the data.

The Shanghai Ranking Consultancy is also the publisher of the influential Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU), commonly known as the Shanghai Ranking. This year, the ARWU ranked U of T 27th in the world.

In March, a similar report on global subject rankings by software company QS Quacquarelli Symonds placed U of T in the top 10 globally in nursing (6th), sports-related subjects (6th), anatomy & physiology (8th), geography (9th), computer science (10th) and education (10th). Medicine, anthropology and religious studies just missed the top 10 list, landing in 11th place.

Among Canadian universities, U of T was first in all five of the broad subject areas and first in 32 of the 43 subjects in which the university was ranked by the QS World University Rankings by Subject.

Globally, the results place the University of Toronto among the world’s elite institutions in all five subject areas and in 43 of the 46 subjects surveyed. The university scored even higher when public higher education institutions alone were counted in the subject areas ranked.

Overall, the University of Toronto continues to be the highest ranked Canadian university and one of the top ranked public universities in the four most prestigious international rankings: Times High Education, QS World Rankings, Shanghai Ranking Consultancy and National Taiwan University.

This article originally appeared on U of T News.

Leslieville Grade 4 Class visits Lassonde Institute

As the students of Leslieville P.S. eagerly look forward to summer, they took some time on their last week before the summer break to visit the Lassonde Institute of Mining.

As a culmination to their rock and minerals unit, the grade four class came to learn about how mining affects everyone’s everyday lives, about how new technologies are being used in mining and about what kinds of minerals are mined in Canada.

Highlights of their visit included seeing how drones are used in mining and using a point load tester to determine the strength of various rock samples. With a selection of minerals on hand, the class could already identify pyrite, quartz, amethyst and graphite!

Thank you to the Leslieville Grade 4 class for your visit!

Thank you to graduate students Greg Gambino, Thomas Bamford and Johnson Ha sharing your knowledge with the Leslieville class.

Could microbes hold the key to more environmentally friendly mines? | The Northern Miner

Prof. Lesley Warren in The Norther Miner, January 9, 2017.


Geochemist and professor Lesley Warren (right) collects water samples for geochemical analyses from a waste deposit undergoing reclamation.

Ancient microbes could offer insight on better mining wastewater strategies

This story originally appeared on U of T Engineering News.

Professor Lesley Warren (standing, at right) and her colleagues are mining the genomes of microbes that thrive in wastewater generated by the resource extraction industry. Insights into how these organisms derive energy from metals and sulphur compounds could lead to new strategies for preventing pollution and optimizing mine reclamation. (Photo courtesy Lesley Warren)

Professor Lesley Warren (standing, at right) and her colleagues are mining the genomes of microbes that thrive in wastewater generated by the resource extraction industry. Insights into how these organisms derive energy from metals and sulphur compounds could lead to new strategies for preventing pollution and optimizing mine reclamation. (Photo courtesy Lesley Warren)

Wastewater from a mine doesn’t sound like a cozy habitat, but for untold numbers of microorganisms, it’s home sweet home. A new research project led by Professor Lesley Warren (CivE) will examine how these microbes make their living by studying their genes — an insight that could help further reduce the environmental footprint of the mining industry. The $3.7-million endeavour is funded in part by Genome Canada through the Large Scale Applied Research Projects (LSARP) program.

Extracting valuable metals such as copper, nickel and gold from rocks, which typically contain only a few weight percent metals, requires substantial amounts of water. All wastewater generated must be cleaned to strict federal guidelines before it can be discharged back into the environment. It is these wastewaters that the microorganisms studied by Warren and her team thrive in.

“These wastewaters contain a variety of sulphur compounds that certain bacteria can use for energy,” says Warren, who holds the Claudette Mackay-Lassonde Chair in Mineral Engineering at U of T. “Their ability to do so evolved billions of years ago, long before more complex life arrived on the scene. If the history of Earth were a 24-hour clock, they have been around for over 23 hours, while we humans have been around for only 17 seconds.”

However, our ability to investigate these bacteria and most importantly how they are cycling these sulphur compounds, which will influence the quality of mining wastewaters, has been very limited until now. If these sulphur compounds become too concentrated, the company has to implement costly chemical treatment systems to make the water acceptable for release and avoid toxicity problems in lakes or streams downstream from the mine.

Dr. Lesley Warren is the Claudette MacKay-Lassonde Chair in Mineral Engineering within the Department of Civil Engineering.

Dr. Lesley Warren is the Claudette MacKay-Lassonde Chair in Mineral Engineering within the Department of Civil Engineering.

Warren believes that genomics can help. She has spent years travelling mine sites from Canada to South Africa to better understand the sulphur geochemistry of their wastewaters and how bacteria are implicated. “I have always preferred dirty water to clean,” she jokes.

For this project, Warren and her team will apply genomics directly in tandem with comprehensive geochemical analyses and modeling to wastewaters. She will collaborate closely with Professor Jill Banfield, a trailblazer in environmental genomics at the University of California, Berkeley, Professor Christian Baron, a microbial biochemist from the Université de Montréal, and Dr. Simon Apte, a research scientist in analytical chemistry and geochemical modeling from Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) Land and Water in Australia, to unravel the role played by these sulphur-loving microbes in important geochemical processes affecting mining wastewaters.

“Mining companies know that microorganisms are driving these reactions, but its still a black box” says Warren. “The lack of available technologies has meant that there has been little research to determine which bacteria are doing what, which ones could serve as early warning signals, or those that could actually be used as the biological treatment itself. Most importantly, mining companies don’t know which levers to pull to control the system.”

Those levers are what Warren and her colleagues aim to identify. Informed by genomic and geochemical insights they plan to develop new tools that can help mine managers make better decisions about how to manage their wastewater. “Once we understand the microbes and how they affect wastewater geochemistry, we can pinpoint the drivers of their behaviour: Which wastewater compounds are they using? Do they like it hot? Do they like it cold? We can adjust those drivers to design new processes that do what we want them to do. Essentially we are mining the bacteria that already exist in these wastewaters as a biotechnology resource.”

With this new knowledge, mines could ensure conditions that encourage the growth of organisms that break down toxic compounds, or prevent the growth of organisms that produce those toxic compounds in the first place. The team is collaborating with three Canadian mining companies, as well as two engineering consulting firms, Advisian and Ecological and Regulatory Solutions. In addition, the Mining Association of Canada, the Ontario Mining Association and CSIRO are further supporting the project.

The project also has the endorsement of the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum (CIM), the leading not-for-profit technical society of professionals in the Canadian minerals, metals, materials and energy industries. CIM National Executive Director, Jean Vavrek, commented: “CIM are in full support of this exciting new project.  While genomics itself is relatively new to the mineral resource industry, it has the potential to provide significant returns and generate new areas for investment in the sector.  We consider this a flagship project and will continue to follow Dr. Warren and her team closely as they pioneer genomics research for mine wastewater characterization and possibly treatment.”

“The mining industry has driven this project from its inception because they want to reduce their environmental footprint. Harnessing the biological potential of their wastewaters will facilitate the development of such strategies to achieve this goal,” says Warren. “So many of the organisms we’re finding are new to science. The chances that we are going to find organisms that are capable of doing creative things that could be useful are very high.”

CivE alumnus wins international Rocha Medal in rock mechanics

Prestigious award is the ultimate prize in rock mechanics for young researchers, putting two graduates and one faculty member on the map

Bryan Tatone (CivE PhD 1T4) has been named the 2017 recipient of the international Rocha Medal, the most prestigious award a student can receive for rock mechanics research.

Bryan Tatone addresses the 2016 Lassonde Research Day

Bryan Tatone addresses the 2016 Lassonde Research Day

Tatone is the second student of Professor Giovanni Grasselli (CivE) to win the Rocha Medal in as many years. Grasselli, who holds the NSERC - Energi Sumlation Industrial Research Chair in Fundamental Rock Physics and Rock Mechanics, won the prestigious honour just 12 years ago.

The prize is awarded each year by the International Society for Rock Mechanics (ISRM) to one doctoral student with an outstanding thesis.

“Rock mechanics is the study of how rocks respond when we engineer them, and it has a lot to do with how rock deforms and fractures” explains Grasselli. “This is especially important for building tunnels, assessing the stability of rock slopes, laying foundations on rock, and assessing reservoir behaviour for the petroleum industry.”

For Grasselli, the awards are recognition of the quality of his group’s work over the past 10 years, and global research excellence in the field of rock mechanics at U of T Engineering.

Tatone’s thesis on the behaviour of shearing rock fractures — lateral movements of rocks against each other underground — is important to projects with geological components. Tatone’s work represents a breakthrough in geological imaging — it is the first instance of micro X-Ray Computed Tomography (µCT) being used to study shearing evolution. It also features the use of a novel numerical modelling approach called the Finite-Discrete Element method (FDEM), which allows the process of rock fracturing to be explicitly simulated.

“Having my work recognized by the international selection committee is a welcome validation of my research efforts, and an immense honour,” said Tatone.

Andrea Lisjak Bradley (CivE PhD 1T3), another of Grasselli’s PhD students, won the award in 2015 for his research on the underground disposal of radioactive waste. It is the first time in Rocha Medal history that two students of a previous recipient also won the award.

Lisjak’s research has helped the current site-selection and design process for an underground radioactive waste repository in Switzerland. His numerical model of shale behaviour can be applied to several issues including stability of surface and underground excavations.

For Lisjak, his experiences during his PhD have been crucial in succeeding in his role with Geomechanica, a start-up company spun out of the research performed by Lisjak, Tatone and their peers. The company develops geomechanical simulation software and provides consulting and laboratory testing services for rock engineering operations, using algorithms and numerical procedures to better simulate the mechanics happening underground before project begin.

“The technical expertise and extensive knowledge I gained during the course of my PhD, as well as developing a professional network in part due to the Rocha Medal, has resulted in greater business development and several consulting opportunities for Geomechanica,” he said.

“When we first started this research, we did not have any guarantee that it would work,” said Grasselli. “The start-up company and the number of published papers that have come out on this topic since we started the research prove how innovative it is.”

University of Toronto’s Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering announces establishment of the Foundation CMG Research Chair in Fundamental Petroleum Rock Physics and Rock Mechanics


Story originally appeared on U of T News

Toronto, ON – University of Toronto Professor Giovanni Grasselli, of the Department of Civil Engineering, has been named the inaugural holder of the Foundation CMG Industrial Research Chair in Fundamental Petroleum Rock Physics and Rock Mechanics.

Professor Grasselli is joining 12 chairs at 12 universities, including Penn State and the University of Texas in Austin, in 6 countries that are funded by the Canadian non-profit organization to investigate leading edge research and innovation in oil and gas reservoir modelling.

In addition to funding Grasselli’s chair, Foundation CMG’s $1.35-million contribution will be used as seed funding toward the development of a new centre of excellence at U of T over the next five years.

By combining fundamental principles of rock physics and rock mechanics with seismic imaging, the centre will produce research and develop technology for smarter, unconventional petroleum production, while reducing the environmental impacts and contributing towards safer field operations.

Foundation CMG’s support will catalyze research collaboration between existing experts at the University of Toronto, creating the necessary critical mass to successfully tackle the development of  a sound physical-based and fully verified geomechanical modelling approach to simulate hydraulic fracturing in shale and tight oil and gas reservoirs.

About Foundation CMG

Foundation CMG’s mission is to promote and fund university research in oil and gas reservoir simulation with industry collaboration and technology transfer. Computer Modelling Group formed in 1978 in the Chemical and Petroleum Engineering Department at University of Calgary with the objective to carry out research in computer simulation and to develop leading edge reservoir simulation software for the petroleum industry.

In 1997 the company was divided into a newly created publicly traded company, CMGL, and a not-for-profit organization, Foundation CMG.

Foundation CMG promotes and financially supports research and development and students through research grants at universities with leading research programs focused on reservoir simulation. Foundation CMG’s vision is to be the catalyst for investment of $700 million toward the training of 5,000 graduate students working on reservoir simulation research topics over a period of 25 years.

Foundation CMG partners with government, industry and universities to drive unique multi-year renewable support of student education and world-leading researchers at universities, in Europe, Asia, South America and North America.

[May 2018 update: the name of the Industrial research chair has been updated to reflect the new name of the industrial partner - the NSERC-Energi Simulation Chair in Fundamental Rock Physics and Rock Mechanics]

Mining’s hardest workers are too small to see

…and we need to know what they’re doing

The image that is conjured up when thinking about mining is a vast underground network of tunnels, big open pits, larger than life machinery or grease-covered workers with headlamps on. But the largest workforce out in any mining operation is the microbes that are working 24/7, constantly influencing the environment.

“Bacteria are present in every aspect of mining, but we don’t fully understand the impacts they can have on water quality,” says Professor Lesley Warren, an aqueous and microbial geochemist with the Lassonde Institute of Mining and University of Toronto’s Department of Civil Engineering.

Warren works to determine the identities and roles of microbes in order to gain an understanding of the bacteria’s beneficial—and detrimental—processes. Effective biological tools, based on Warren’s research, are being developed for industry especially related to water quality management.

Water is a necessary resource for municipalities, agriculture, manufacturing, power generation—and mining. According to a 2009 report by Statistics Canada, mining accounts for two per cent of water use in Canada. Mine operations need water for mineral processing and metal recovery, but the discharge of water used in these activities can have adverse effects on surrounding surface and groundwater systems.

Water availability is a major concern for the mining industry. Fresh, clean water is a scarce resource and industry competes with many stakeholders for access. The mining industry has made great strides to minimize its effect on water quality and waste. The industry uses environmental management strategies, monitors discharges, and recycles used water, but water pollution remains a significant concern. So minimizing water requirements, while increasing the yield of recoverable minerals, is environmentally, socially and economically responsible.

Aerial view of an arid, craggy landscape surrounding tailing ponds.

Aerial view of an arid, craggy landscape surrounding tailing ponds.

“Acid mine drainage is the number one priority pollution issue for the mining industry on a global scale,” according to Warren. “It refers to the creation of acidic water. When sulphide minerals are exposed to water and air, sulphuric acid is generated through a natural, microbial-driven chemical reaction.”

Sulphuric acid lowers the pH of water, which lowers the quality of downstream water systems and increases their dissolved metal content. It is most commonly formed through the oxidation of pyrite (iron sulphide), which produces ferric sulphate and sulphuric acid. Because the majority of metal deposits are high in sulphide minerals and mining activities increase the amount of rock surface exposed to air and water, acid mine drainage remains of great concern.

Several researchers in the Lassonde Institute work to tackle water issues in the mining industry. In addition to Warren, Professors Elizabeth Edwards and Vladimiros Papangelakis explore the industrial applications for microbial and technological processes to solve mining’s pressing water challenges.

Professor Elizabeth Edwards (Department of Chemical Engineering & Applied Chemistry) works in subsurface bioremediation and remediation. For more than 20 years, she has studied microbes in contaminated sites, looking at how micro-organisms have adapted to both aerobic and anaerobic environments. The field applications of Edwards’ research involves harnessing the power of microbial metabolic processes for detoxification. One of her first commercial projects involved using bacteria to stimulate de-chlorination of solvents in industrial sites. Now, the same strategy is being applied to other contaminants.

Edwards has worked with Professor Vladimiros Papangelakis (Department of Chemical Engineering & Applied Chemistry) on a biological wastewater treatment project for acid mine drainage. Using bioleaching—the process of using bacteria to dissolve minerals instead of chemical solutions—of pyrrhotite tailings to recover nickel and elemental sulphur, making the wastewater more benign.

The oxidation of iron and of sulphur is achieved biologically. The project uses two bioleaching approaches: one for high nickel in acidic conditions at high solids concentration and one for ultramafic concentrates (high nickel and magnesium) at a neutral pH with oxygen and nitrate. The bacterium Thiobacillus denitrificans facilitates the nickel and magnesium dissolution, sulphate production and nitrate usage. In the nascent stages, the results were a two-to-four per cent nickel extraction at pH 6, but this may be more effective at a lower pH.

Papangelakis is also working on a project using forward osmosis to desalinate water for industrial usage, which could be more efficient and cost effective than existing technologies. Brackish water—a mixture of fresh and salt water—is generally unusable by industry because the salt corrodes equipment. As a water purification technique, forward osmosis is more energy efficient, and cheaper, than reverse osmosis.

© 2021 Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering