Building towards a Sustainable Mining Camp (SMC)

By Devon Yacura

6 min read

With the increased focus and priority for the development of a Sustainable Mining Camp (SMC), mining companies are looking to improve their carbon footprint. This can include generating renewable energy onsite, reducing fossil fuel consumption, improving the camp’s waste management practices, reducing water consumption, reducing transportation and creating efficiencies in reclamation practices, among others.

Our researchers are finding ways to make remote mining camps more sustainable while helping clients reduce costs, manage risks and drive better stakeholder relationships.

There are certainly many benefits to making mining camps more sustainable – particularly remote camps. The most obvious is a reduced impact on the environment; however, developing a more sustainable mine also improves a company’s overall ESG performance. An improved ESG performance is attractive to investors, and a SMC can lead to stronger community relationships and reduced negative local impact. Government regulators would also view a proposed SMC more favorably, reducing the risk of project rejection.

In addition to the environmental and social benefits of a SMC, there are plenty of financial reasons to improve the sustainability of a mining camp. Reduced reliance on traditional fossil fuels means lower energy costs and lower transport costs. A more sustainable camp is a more efficient camp, which faces fewer environmental, social and operational risks. The development of an SMC can also potentially generate carbon offsets which can be sold through carbon markets or used by the organization to achieve compliance with carbon emissions caps.

Digest this

Anaerobic digesters are not some new, untested technology (the first one was built in 1859 at a leper colony in India). But over the past few years, they have captured much attention. In very simple terms, an anaerobic digester converts biowaste (kitchen waste, sewage sludge and cooking oil, for example) into a carbon-neutral renewable energy. Feed it your scraps and it will feed you clean power.

Governments around the world have been promoting anaerobic digestors as a clean fuel alternative. In China and India, governments are encouraging households and farms to use them to reduce waste and reliance on wood burning stoves. In North America and Europe, digesters are being used in larger-scale settings like commercial farms, municipalities, and industrial complexes. Some estimates suggest there are more than 200 digesters operating across Canada today.

Power to the camp

Now, some of the most progressive mine owners are asking how anaerobic digesters might help improve the sustainability of a mining camp. We’ve been working with one such company – Casino Mining Corporation – to assess the value. The Casino Project is a planned copper, gold, molybdenum and silver mine located about 300 kilometers northwest of Whitehorse, Yukon. It’s remote. And it’s expected to be large, with around 700 employees on site during operation.

Our estimates of this type of camp suggest those 700 people would create approximately 200 tonnes of food waste per year. The camp would also generate around 1,100 tonnes of sewage sludge and approximately 10,000 liters of cooking oil per year. Current literature suggests that – if all this feedstock was fed into an efficient digester – it could create the equivalent of approximately 50,000 liters of diesel fuel per year. That is 50,000 liters of clean fuel that does not need to be purchased or shipped to the mine site. The more remote your mine site, the bigger the value of that savings.

From idea to innovation

Devon Yacura is an innovative entrepreneur based in our Yukon office. As a child, he credits his mother for inspiring him to always look for a better way, particularly when it came to the environment. It was while doing his Masters’ research at the Whitehorse Sewage Lagoon that he started to think seriously about anaerobic digesters. At work, he wondered whether anaerobic digesters could be adapted to support remote mining camps.

In 2020 – with the support of the Yukon University, the Yukon Government and Ausenco – Devon built a prototype digester in his shed-turned-laboratory, known locally as “The Lab”. “We wanted to get some hands-on experience building and managing digesters at a small scale to really test and understand the technology,” notes Devon. “We did it on a small budget. And we focused on making it small scale to match the needs of our remote mine site clients.”

Ausenco management quickly saw the market potential of the innovation and jumped on board. Devon won an Innovation Award in 2018 that provided him with time and resources to invest in improving and commercializing his idea and technology. He was supported by peers and colleagues from across the organization who provided valuable insight and practical advice. And that is helping him develop a Sustainable Mining Camp concept design for the Casino Project. The next stage of the research is a cost-benefit analysis, which will help Casino make an informed decision on whether to proceed with the innovation.

The future is closer than you think

Research projects like the one being supported by Casino Mining Corporation will undoubtedly help solidify the business case and value proposition for the technology. Similar projects are already being discussed with other companies, which should help mainstream the idea and expand its applicability.

Devon is particularly excited about the potential of farming and harvesting algae at the Casino Mine to produce an on-site energy feedstock for the digester. “Algae blooms are common in sewage lagoons in the North – lots of sunlight and lots of nutrients make the perfect conditions for algae to flourish,” he adds. “Under the right conditions, we should be able to farm that algae, harvest it, and then feed it into the digester to generate significantly more renewable energy. Algae uses photosynthesis to grow, so ultimately, we are using algae as a tool to harness solar energy.”

Find a Better Way

Devon’s SMC research demonstrates our company’s purpose - to Find a Better Way, at an individual, organizational and ecosystem level. It is exhibited in his passion to innovate and to reuse material wherever possible and in the professional support and encouragement from his peers. It is visible in progressive organizations like Casino Mining Corporation where owners and mining leaders are committed to finding better ways to develop their projects.

“I’ve always had a passion for waste management and now through my career with Ausenco, I am afforded the opportunity to find a better way to manage organic waste, while also creating a carbon-neutral renewable energy,” adds Devon. “With the support of Ausenco, I am collaborating with the mining industry to find a better way to develop the most sustainable mining camp possible. I’m proud to be making an impact.”

Contact Devon to learn more!