Bradshaw Research Institute for Minerals and Mining (BRIMM) Joining ICICS

Decarbonizing the planet to address climate change presents the world with a confounding paradox. In the next 30 years, we will need as much copper as has been produced in human history. Electric vehicles, solar panels, wind turbines, etc. all require copper. What was considered low grade 20 years ago and the lower threshold for profitable mining—2 to 5 percent copper content—has dropped to 0.5 to 0.6 percent. To clean up the world, we need to mine more copper and other minerals such as lithium for batteries, and they are harder to come by. Added to this are policy requirements pushing the mining industry toward net-zero carbon emissions, and concerns from investment companies about future environmental hazards posed by mining operations.

BRIMM Director John Steen

Addressing this paradox is what drives the Bradshaw Research Institute for Minerals and Mining (BRIMM). The Institute connects researchers with industry to generate impactful solutions to these and other pressing problems. It was founded in 2017 by the vision and generous donations of BC mining executive and member of the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame Dr. Peter Bradshaw.  Professor John Steen, BRIMM director since 2020, brings a wealth of experience acquired in Australia spanning academia and the mining industry. He sees a real opportunity for change in Canada, where the mining companies are smaller than in Australia and more open to collaborations that bring in required skills. He also sees great promise in digital technology research for transforming the mining industry, which is why BRIMM will be joining ICICS in January 2023.

“Being part of ICICS will help us find the sweet spot where industry and academia can interact in a highly productive way,” says Steen.


The Digitization of Mining

BRIMM already collaborates with ICICS researchers and ventures from the ICICS-based HATCH accelerator, within four research themes: (1) Mining Microbiome; (2) Ore Body Knowledge; (3) Sustainable Mining Energy Systems; and (4) Water Stewardship.

The Mining Microbiome theme builds on a Digital Technology Supercluster project led by Teck Resources in partnership with UBC and other partners, and focuses on natural resources genomics sequencing. By extracting DNA from soil, water, waste and other substances at 15,000 mine sites in North America, the project is identifying microbes that bind to minerals, to enable non-chemical based extraction and remediation strategies. For example, microbes that bind to selenium could be used to prevent toxic selenium levels in mining waste (“slag”) from leaching into water and compromising human and wildlife health. Remediating slag containing residual mineral content like copper could be made profitable by introducing microbes that bind with and isolate the copper.

The processing and sequencing are being done at UBC’s Life Sciences Institute, resulting in the world’s largest biobank outside of medicine. The machine learning algorithms to identify genes and metabolic pathways were developed by HATCH alumni venture Koonkie, whose CEO Aria Hahn studied with project researcher Steve Hallam (Microbiology and Immunology),

Other UBC researchers involved in developing these “metal nets” include Sue Baldwin (ChemBio Engineering), previous BRIMM director Greg Dipple  (Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences) and Professor Steen. The project is also supported by the BC Ministry of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation, and the Tahltan First Nation.

Data Analytics and Water Stewardship

The Water Stewardship theme, led by Nadja Kunz (Mining Engineering/Public Policy & Global Affairs) employs data analytics to quantify the long-term effects of mining operations on water. Investment companies, for example, want to know the long-term costs of remediating the environmental impact of mining, including the potential catastrophic effects of a slag dam breaking. Modelling the true cost of mining in this way can help build the economic case for new water management technologies, by predicting what the mine’s water environment will look like in 40 years. This is particularly important when there are competing demands for water from neighbouring communities.

ICICS member Raymond Ng, Director of UBC’s Data Science Institute (DSI), collaborates with BRIMM in this work. The team is building statistical models using massive amounts of mining data—including satellite data—to understand the impact of mining on water, wildfires, and other environmental disruptions.

 The Blockchain Use Case

Mining licenses issued by the BC government stipulate annual allowed carbon emissions, which companies must report on. In many cases, these permits are issued using the Blockchain-based IBM Digital Wallet. Because this is considered a trusted certificate, international carbon monitoring bodies like the Open Earth Platform don’t need to confirm allowed levels reported by companies. BRIMM is working with Vicki Lemieux (School of Information) and Harish Krishnan (Sauder School of Business) of the ICICS research cluster Blockchain@UBC to address related issues such as data ownership, including supply chain carbon footprint in annual reporting, and company motivation to voluntarily be on blockchain.

These projects just touch on the wealth of mining research being done at BRIMM. To build industry partnerships and promote cleaner mining technology, BRIMM also offers an online executive education program that is open to all. Course content is developed with industry and First Nations in both Canada and Australia, and focuses on building a financial case for clean mining technologies.

“We believe that the technological change we’re promoting in BRIMM will be adopted when there’s a financial case for it,” Steen emphasizes. “Clean tech wins every time.”

As the West Coast representative in the federally funded Mining Innovation Commercialization Accelerator (MICA) network, BRIMM is working with partners across the country to increase the involvement of smaller tech companies in decarbonizing the mining sector. The HATCH venture Carbin Minerals, founded by Professor Dipple, is developing technology to accelerate the carbon dioxide removal potential of mining waste. As such, it is a prime example of the innovation these smaller companies can provide.

John Steen plays a key role in BRIMM, bringing together project partners from industry, non-profit organizations, and academia. He sees himself as comparable to a rugby “fly-half”—like a quarterback in football—converging the key elements for impactful mining research. A cleaner mining sector and associated new technologies like carbon capture will be BRIMM’s winning game.

For more information about BRIMM, contact John Steen at