Renewal of an important partnership
The Institut de recherche en mines et environnement (IRME) of UQAT and Polytechnique Montreal was created in 2013 in collaboration with 6 industrial partners, namely mine operators Agnico Eagle, Canadian Malartic (at the time Corporation minière Ossisko), Iamgold Corporation, Raglan Mine, Rio Tinto Fer et Titane and more recently (2017) Newmont-Goldcorp. The partnership of 2 universities with these mining enterprises led to the creation of a research institute whose main objective was de development of environmental solutions for a mine’s whole life cycle, contributing to more environmentally responsible mining projects. The agreement among these partners covered a 7-year period from 2013 to 2019. Considering the numerous environmental challenges faced by the mining sector and the undeniable success of the partnership, both universities and all 6 industrial partners have decided to renew the agreement. This will allow the continuation of research efforts and training at IRME for a further 7 years, from 2020 to 2026, ensuring a second phase of activity at IRME.
A FRUITFUL PARTNERSHIP
IRME’s first phase (2013-2019) was able to establish an impressive research program with a total investment of over $29 million. The over $10M in support provided by the industrial partners was enhanced by the team at IRME who were able to obtain over $19M in grants from governmental organisms such as the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and the Fonds de recherche du Québec Nature et Technologie (FRQNT).
These funds contributed to the implementation of an impressive program including 3 Canada Research Chairs, an Industrial Research Chair and more than 30 sizeable research projects. This research program was led by a team of professors that grew from 12 at the start of the first phase of IRME to 20 today. This team was supported by 20 research professionals and technicians. Together, they created an important contingent of highly qualified personnel. The first phase of activity also led to very many postgraduate degrees, namely 60 Masters degrees and 21 Ph. D. degrees. IRME also hosted more than a hundred undergraduate interns and fifteen postdoctoral fellows. Many of these graduates from UQAT and Polytechnique Montréal are now professionals in the field and can be found in various mining companies, consulting firms and government positions. These new professionals are important vectors for knowledge transfer of the research to the mining sector and permit an evolution of their practices. They are one of the most important benefits of the work done by IRME. Furthermore, the Institute currently has 75 graduate students that are in the process of completing their graduate degrees at UQAT and Polytechnique Montréal.
 For more information about IRME’s history and the mining sector and environmental research performed at UQAT and Polytechnique, please consult the first IRME bulletin at www.irme.ca
The research output of the various projects is too large to include a complete list. The research team at IRME produced approximately 500 scientific publications (including congress proceedings). General examples of the research outputs are:
An example of mine site restoration is the work done at the abandonned Manitou mine. In partnership with Agnico Eagle and the ministère de l’Énergie et des Ressources naturelles du Québec (MERN), the site was restored using process residues from the Goldex Mine. Notably, work done at IRME via the NSERC-UQAT Industrial Research Chair for mine site restoration allowed the evaluation of the restoration methods utilised in the different sectors of the mine. We can also highlight the work done to better understand the effect of vegetation on the performance of restoration methods and optimizing the production of desulphurized residues for use in mine site restoration.
With regards to the integrated management of mine wastes, work has demonstrated the possibility of using these materials to restore tailings impoundments or as construction materials on the mine sites. Multiple projects also led to enhanced knowledge of backfilling of underground sites and of the disposal of mine residues and reactive tailings in trenches. These integrated management approaches for mine wastes limit the quantities stored on the surface or of new materials from off-site. These approaches reduce environmental impacts and are often profitable solutions for the mine.
Progress was also made with regards to mine effluent geochemistry and the prediction of water quality. Work integrating automated quantitative mineralogy allowed for improvement in environmental impact predictions. Advances were also made predicting water quality in northern environments.
Advances were also made with regards to the treatment of effluents contaminated with cyanide and its derivatives, work on treatment of the toxicity and salinity of contaminated effluents as well as the characterization and treatment of emerging contaminants.
New approaches to the design of tailings and overburden impoundments were also developed. Specifically, innovative overburden management strategies were developed to reduce the production of contaminated drainage by controlling water infiltration. Another pioneering approach studied at IRME was the use of overburden to improve the geotechnical stability of tailings impoundments.
A methodological approach was developed to help the mining industry adapt to climate change by integrating climate change in the design of retention ponds and restoration efforts. The impact of climate changes is not restricted to northern environments, but its impacts there are more critical and the rapid development of adapted methodologies is important for mines operating in these regions. In this context, IRME developed a new approach to restoration that is more resistant to a changing climate and that combines a thermal barrier and an oxygen barrier: An insulating capping barrier with a capillary effect. Our work also increased our knowledge with regards to prediction and passive treatment of mine drainage in northern climates.
IRME LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
Thanks to the financial support of the industrial partners, totalling $11.2M over 7 years, the renewed partnership will allow IRME to pursue and continue to develop its research program from 2020 to 2026. While continuing to work on aspects developed during the first phase of activity, the partners have also committed to a continued evolution of the program in order to offer other innovative solutions
According to Pascal Lavoie, president of IRME’s governing board, “What is unique about IRME is the scope and synergy of the research themes that are examined. The research projects are developed and completed with many partners, offering concrete solutions that respond to the real needs of the mining sector, governments and society”.
The second phase of activities at IRME will cover eight major research themes:
- Site restoration
- Circular economy applied to the mining sector: Valorization and integrated management of mine wastes
- Geotechnical and environmental stability of mine waste storage sites
- Prediction of water quality
- Treatment and management of mine effluents
- Transport of contaminants in the environment
- Influence of climatic conditions
- Sharing of knowledge and exchanges with communities