The penny dropped for Dean Millar shortly after he became a father. He was reading a book about peak oil, and remembers thinking, “What have I done? I’ve brought somebody into the world who will have to deal with all this.”
For Millar, “dealing with all this,” means finding practical and economically viable forms of renewable energy. His research focuses on the cleaning up the fuel-hungry mining industry.
“I’m trying to reduce carbon emissions associated with energy use in the mining industry. And I’m aiming to do that while reducing costs,” he says.
Millar studied both rock mechanics and mining finance. The Laurentian University professor sees the technical and economic challenges of cleaner mining operations as an exciting opportunity.
Mining is power hungry. It takes a lot of juice to extract and haul ores, and to cool underground environment.
Millar believes that solar panels that float on ponds or lakes could solve many of the logistical challenges associated with this energy-intensive sector. They can be set up close to a mine with minimal cost and environmental impact.
“Normally, it’s a job of running power lines many hundreds of kilometers to the nearest point where you have an electricity transmission or distribution grid,” he says. “It can be disruptive to the environment and expensive.” Other industries can locate a manufacturing or assembly plant close to power sources but miners must go where the ore can be found.
Not only can floating solar panels reduce the need for diesel-generated electricity, but they also cut energy costs by as much as 10 percent. In an industry ruled by tight margins, that saving could spur mining companies to embrace this emerging technology.
One of the hottest mining zones today is the Ring of Fire, the vast expanse in the James Bay lowlands of Ontario’s Far North. If Millar’s photo-voltaic panels can deliver cleaner, cheaper energy there, it could spark broader industry interest in renewable energy sources.
“Tidal energy, offshore wind, wave energy – I’m committed to renewable energy because it’s a practical way to make a difference to the environment,” he says. “Now that my daughter is learning about such things in high school, she thinks that my generation should not delay in cleaning up its act.”
**Major funders for this research include Ontario Research Fund for Research Excellence, Canada Foundation for Innovation, Vale, Xstrata Nickel, Laurentian University, National Science and Engineering Research Council.