Champion of Innovation: Glen Corder, Development Manager at SUSOP
Austmine's call for Innovation Champions in the METS sector brought some fantastic candidates to our attention. Our latest profile is on Glen Corder, Development Manager at SUSOP.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Where do you currently work and how has the progression of your career brought you to this point?
I am a Principal Research Fellow at the Sustainable Minerals Institute at the University of Queensland (UQ) and for the last five years have held the position of Development Manager for SUSOP. I have been working in the sustainability area in the minerals industry for over 10 years. I have a particular interest in how technological solutions (existing or emerging) can help reduce social and environmental risks in developing new mining and mineral processing operations.
You were critically involved in the team who introduced the Sustainable Development Framework to generate and cluster innovative opportunities on mining projects. How has this framework helped to produce more sustainable, and profitable mining operations?
SUSOP is a sustainability project risk management tool for mining project developments. It utilises a structured procedure with multidisciplinary teams to help identify opportunities that can contribute to good environmental, social and community outcomes without compromising on technical and financial rigour.
We’ve done work over the years with major mining companies and also with the smaller end of town, such as Metallica Minerals. Metallica Minerals’ flagship project (which was to go to Definitive Feasibility Study stage subject to additional funding and/or project partnerships but due to current market conditions in late 2013 and early 2014 the DFS has been deferred until appropriate funding is in place) is the SCONI nickel-cobalt and scandium project. They wished to adopt the SUSOP framework so they could ensure their project would make a proper contribution to sustainability. This outcomes from this process encompasses working closely with local communities, minimising or preventing adverse environmental effects and reducing their environmental footprint, to name a few elements.
One of the significant outcomes from the SUSOP workshops on the SCONI project during the enhanced scoping study stage was the identification that they could significantly reduce the size of their residue facility, by re-using and recycling the water on site and therefore drawing far less water from the Burdekin River. This would provide a win-win scenario, where capital expenditure and operational costs are significantly reduced and the environmental impact is also significantly reduced.
The perception within our industry is often that if you focus on community and environmental management that your costs will go up. This is not automatically true; it’s just about doing things differently. A major part of this is getting your various departments and disciplines to work together from an earlier stage in the project, to come up with solutions that can be technically practical and economically feasible, whilst also bringing better environmental, social and local community outcomes.
SUSOP is fundamentally about getting these individuals from disparate disciplines involved early on in the project to come up with ideas and initiatives that give the project better sustainability credentials, without compromising technical and financial aspects.
The last 25 years of your career has focused here in Australia on optimising processing plants; what innovations have you seen occur during that time period and what has been the impact of those innovation on the processing sector?
One area is the development in computer controls and data recording. This has really given the industry the opportunity to record large amounts of useful data. The challenge has been, and still is, to transform these large amounts of data (big data) into helpful information for decision-making. This is true of sustainability as well, where data and information from different departments of an operation or company need to be analysed in a holistic manner to ensure mining and metallurgical technical aspects don’t have an adverse impact on environmental and social issues and vice versa where environmental and social issues might affect production outcomes. A much more integrated approach is now needed and the industry have been recognising and working on this over recent years. Another important development is the growth in new technologies and initiatives – advanced water treatment, carbon emissions and offsetting, geographic information system, drones or unmanned aerial vehicles for environmental monitoring, aeromagnetic surveys for exploration – to name just a few. I believe new technologies are key to reducing the footprint and impacts of the industry.
What does innovation mean to you as an individual?
Innovation to me means new technologies that not only make sense from a business perspective, but also contribute to sustainability – environmental, social, community or human benefits. These are sometimes perceived as mutually exclusive under a business as usual paradigm, but good innovation outcomes can meet both financial and sustainability objectives.
How closely linked should innovation and sustainability be in our industry? Are there miners or METS you see in the industry who are especially good at interlinking the two?
They should absolutely be linked; in fact I think we need to use sustainability principles or goals as the drivers of innovation. Smart engineers and scientists can often find new solutions to difficult but well described problems e.g. developing an energy efficient, low or no water use technology to liberate minerals from ore.
Miners will all have some specific areas of sustainability they’ve tried to excel in. Rio Tinto has been good at recognising key social, environmental or sustainability issues and producing publically available resource guides such as ‘Why gender matters’, ‘Why human rights matter’ and ‘Why cultural heritage matters’. Another example would be Anglo American; when Cynthia Carroll came on board as CEO in 2007, she was incredibly passionate about reducing the deaths they were seeing in their South African mines – so much so that she shut down the world’s largest platinum mine, at Rustenburg, for a fundamental overhaul of their safety procedures . Anglo brought in Jim Joy from the Sustainable Minerals Institute and developed and fully embedded the Safety Risk Management Programme, which reduced the number of fatalities by 29% in its first two years.
Anglo American South Africa and BHP Billiton Energy Coal South Africa (BECSA) in 2007 commissioned the eMalahleni Water Reclamation Plant, with Anglo investing almost US$100million into it, to help treat the underground water from its mining operations in the Witbank coalfields in SA. The plant was very initially planned for operational reasons, but they ended up producing more water than they required, so the excess water they produced they made available to the local communities. This is an excellent example of a miner starting with an operational objective, but seeing community benefits too as they moved through; in an arid area like SA that’s obviously a big impact!
On the METS side of things, I would make note of Russell Mineral Equipment who started out in Toowoomba, QLD with their own lining facilities; I admire them as I’ve been hearing about them for many years and they have developed something that’s both innovative and ticks sustainability boxes being an efficient way to undertake mill relinings. Another company would be Gekko Systems, owned by Elizabeth and Sandy Lewis-Gray down in Melbourne. They are constantly innovating and are now exporting that innovation to the world. Those are a couple of METS companies that jump out to me, but we certainly have a wealth of others here in Australia.
Whilst we have a strong mining base in this country, I think the real future is in the METS sector, where we develop specialised technology that can be used around the rest of the globe in mining. The great news is that if your company is developing this specialised technology you can have a far stronger business case for government and investors, than the miners, where they compete against other countries that have significantly lower costs.
What advice would you give to individuals within the METS industry who are passionate about innovation, but don’t know where to begin?
I'd suggest seeking out those who are like minded about the need for innovation in our industry, and listen and learn from their experiences. It takes time to introduce new concepts and innovation into our industry, so you need to stick with your ideas and find solace in others who have been on the journey. Also, it is really helpful to 'road test' any smart innovation ideas you'd like to pursue, particularly with those who have spent most or all of their working life in the industry and are approaching or in retirement – they are usually only too willing to give something back!
Who do you look up to within the sector as embodying successful innovation?
There are a number of people, but someone I particularly have a lot of respect for is the founder of UQ’s Julius Kruttschnitt Mineral Research Centre (JKMRC) Professor Alban Lynch. His mindset from the outset was a focus on linking the labs more closely to the mine sites, by developing PhD students and sending them out to mine sites for long periods of time to do research work that would really impact on and deliver results for the industry. A lot of good research outcomes that have a practical application has come out of JKMRC, including grinding, crushing and milling circuits that have seen their way into commercial software packages such as JKSimMet that is used around the world for simulation optimisation and design modelling.
JKMRC and now the Sustainable Minerals Institute, as well as JKTech (SMI’s technology transfer company), whole mode of operation has been very much working with industry, trying to help fix their issues and problems and come out with practical applicable solutions. This changed the whole approach to mining industry research here in Australia.
What’s up next for you in terms of driving change in the sector?
I have been working on a project called the Wealth from Waste Cluster that focuses on the recovery of above ground metals and minerals in end of life products and industrial waste. This is a part of the value chain that mining and minerals industry has not, at least in recent times, worked in. I think with the knowledge and expertise in our industry, particularly from the METS sector, we should be able to make a step change contribution to the metals recycling sector. I think it would be really exciting to explore this possibility.