Dazzling, cutting-edge mining industry technology was recently on display at the Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) conference in Toronto.
Since it started in 1932, the yearly PDAC conference has expanded in its size and range. In 2016, the event included almost 1,000 exhibitors and more than 22,000 attendees from 125 countries.
One of the highlights of this year’s conference was the Disrupt Mining event, Shark Tank-style competition held on the convention’s opening day.
One of the competition’s finalists was Bio-Mine Ltd. and its highly-specialized bacteria that are capable of digesting rock. The company said its “programmable bacteria” could be used to either mine for valuable minerals or breakdown toxic mining industry by-products found in old mines.
Past efforts to use bacteria in mining have used the microorganisms to breakdown a singular type of rock. Bio-Mine has taken this a step further by being able to program its bacteria so they can target a wide range of rock types. The company is able to achieve this by supplying the microorganisms with a very particular diet and keeping them from consuming specific metabolites, a method known as metabolic engineering.
When you have a programmable technology, the opportunities are limitless.
Kurtis Vanwallegham, Bio-Mine’s chief executive
Another finalist was Gold Sniffer Inc. and its custom camera that could be used to sense the distinct optical signature of gold.
Particles of gold tend to be too small for geologists to find out with a manual lens. Therefore, the only means to know if a sample has gold is to send it to a lab for testing, a process that may take months to complete.
The Gold Sniffer camera uses a macro lens, a customized light source and a complex algorithm to confirm the presence of gold in mere minutes.
The PDAC convention also featured virtual reality headsets from Metaverse designed to give potential investors a virtual tour of a mining site. The company said its headsets could also potentially be used to train new employees or visualize data in a dramatic fashion.
The dazzling new technology was unveiled to a mining conference that had attendees largely sounding upbeat about the prospects of the international mining sector.
“I would say the sentiment is cautiously optimistic,” said Andrew Cheatle, executive director of PDAC, told The Globe and Mail.
At last year’s PDAC conference, display space was almost sold out. This year, there was a waiting list. The surge in interest is likely due to rising commodity prices, observers said.
The mining sector recently went through some relatively lean years after concerns about China’s economy sent commodity prices plummeting. Falling prices led to companies pulling back on spending and investments.
However, the sector has been buoyed recently by rising prices for gold and other metals, and investors are taking notice.
Share prices are up, the big companies are talking about dividends and the smaller companies are raising money for new projects again. It’s a different world all together.
David Harquail, chief executive of Franco-Nevada Corp.
He added that the mood was similarly upbeat at the Bank of Montreal’s Global Metals & Mining Conference held in Hollywood, Fla. at the end of February.
While capital is starting to come back to the sector, mining executives say the situation still isn’t even close to the highs of the previous commodity boom that occurred a few years ago. In fact, gold prices leveled off recently in light of speculation that the U.S. Federal Reserve could hike interest rates in the near future.
The relatively subdued bounce back of prices means companies aren’t exactly all in when it comes to spending.
We haven’t come back to the really buoyant, exuberant days.
Rob McEwen, primary owner of McEwen Mining.