A request for posts came in and reminded me that I had been sitting on this post since the summer. The purpose of the post was to brief you on what I had been doing since the sabbatical took effect and ended persisted. I will therefore not be attending this small, aptly themed, get-together:”It’s New Year and we’re all thinking about our exes” that my friend is throwing in favour of typing away my life while listening to the Buzzcocks (on repeat no less). I am calling this virtue and similarly to post-holiday bloat, this too shall pass.
I suspended the blog as I took on a job with the Department of Natural Resources and where my main tasks were to assess the benefits of certain R&D projects undertaken under the auspices of the Green Mining Initiative. I thought that was interesting but not exactly thrilling and returned to my alma mater where my main area of interest is the national system of innovation with a specific focus on university research which is turning out to be no less than a 9-to-5 fairytale.
Given this focus in my work, here’s a bit of a scan of the Research, Development and Innovation landscape pertaining to the mining industry.
Intramural R&D expenditures by firms for mining and related activities amounted to $99 million in 2011 according to Statistics Canada. This is quite meager considering the size of the sector relative to the Canadian economy. Firms in this sector do not tend to be R&D intensive. Only seven mining firms’ made it on Re$earch Infosource Top 100 Corporate R&D Spenders despite R&D intensity metrics as low as 0.1% (Teck Resources) and as high as 3.4% (the recently acquired NeoMaterials Tech). This ranking is derived from absolute spending figures and therefore gives an edge to the token efforts of larger firms. Processing firms in the sector are more R&D intensive. Regardless, with these investment levels Canadian miners are unlikely to mine asteroids anytime soon.
Federal support is provided by the granting councils and also by regional development agencies in the context of industry-academia partnerships. Investment in natural resources research has been deemed a priority in the 2007 Science and Technology Strategy, the statement guiding federal investments in research to boost prosperity and further strengthen certain economically crucial sectors. As a result, natural resources are generally included as a field of investigation under our sexiest boutique science and technology initiatives. They are listed below.
Through the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council, about $7 million was provided in 2011-12 for about 130 projects dealing with the economic aspects of prospecting, mining exploration, extraction and processing. Other funding may have been provided for knowledge advancement in earth sciences, engineering and environmental research although I cannot be disaggregate the figures reported.
Network of Centre of Excellence (NCE) are knowledge mobilization partnerships intended to build critical mass in certain research areas. Under NCE programming mining along with other extractive industries are considered in the context of two Centres of Excellence for the Commercialization of Research (CECRs). CECRs usually select promising research that they seek to further develop to allow technologies to be deployed. They operate in partnerships with the private sector.
• The LookNORTH Centre was provided approximately $7 million for the 2011-16 period, leveraging a mere $236,000 from private sector contributions which is low by CECR standards but could be explained by the fact they have small- and medium-size enterprises as partners. It seeks to develop remote sensing technologies to deploy in the Canadian north. Responsible resource development in the North is all the rage.
• TechTerra was provided just under $12 million for the 2009-14 period, leveraging over $3.5 million to develop intelligent, integrated resource management tools to observe, monitor, forecast and manage Alberta’s land and natural resources. I understand this will deal primarily with oil sands although the Centre appears to consider mining projects as well.
Canada Research Chairs are researchers which play a specific role in fulfilling their universities strategic research plans. Allocation is competitive. There are currently four researchers holding Canada Research Chair positions focused on mining and mineral processing. Three out of four researchers hail from the U-15 and I am finding this quite surprising as I would have expected regional universities to be more represented. In total about $5 million is provided to those researchers for a 5 to 7 year period.
Canada Excellence Research Chairs are in a way superlative research chairs. They’re research top-guns attracted with very fat grants of up to $10 million each. It seems a very convincing way of attracting top-researchers and unless competitive counter-offers are provided from Ivy League it achieves that fairly well. This is how we attracted UK’s own Dr. Graham Pearson at the University of Alberta to conduct research related to diamond mining in the Arctic. Again keeping with resource development in the North being all the rage.
Higher education expenditures amounts to roughly half the business expenditures. Given the importance of mining in providing employment in remote areas, I am advancing that contributions made by regional development agencies for industry academia collaboration may be significant although much harder to track. In the interest of new year celebrations, and because the Buzzcocks are working my nerves, I will spare you from details about government’s intramural expenditures on mining research.
Now don’t be sad. You can expect little activity on this blog in 2013 as I am caught up in professional bliss and have found more fitting extracurricular activities (e.g.: slicing and dicing of FIUC data at cafés). I am very satisfied with what JustDigging has accomplished and my friends will tell you how unbearable my constant reporting of viewing statistics was in the blog’s golden age. I really enjoyed blogging and it is likely that I will pursue other blog ventures in the future. Perhaps a blog discussing open innovation or something light for everyday banter which I would like to call “Flirting with Baristas”. In any case James, it’s been a pleasure. Happy New Year and Good Bye!