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An innovative mining sector

In the eyes of the public and of the industry itself, the mining industry generally appears to lack innovation. In fact, it invests less in research and development than other high-tech industries such as biotechnologies and communications. The work of Michel Jébrak, an expert in the field of mineral resources and a member of the Centre interuniversitaire de recherche sur la science et la technologie (CIRST), shows that, despite popular belief, the mining industry is an important source of innovation.

Improper categorization of mining innovations could be at the root of this underestimation. Based on a comprehensive literature review and meetings with Québec mining innovators, the researcher revised the existing typology of innovation in this sector. He was able to identify more than one hundred recent innovations to which Québec has contributed and which occur at every step of mining production, be it exploration, exploitation or rehabilitation (remediation). These cover the entire spectrum of innovation, from concepts to technical applications.

The mining industry is an important source of innovation.

Michel Jébrak’s research has revealed that, until now, the discovery of new types of deposits was not considered to be an innovation. The results of this first phase of his study have been widely disseminated through publications and interviews and at conferences around the world, raising awareness of the vitality of the mining industry among mining professionals and the public in general.

For the second phase of the study, the researcher traced the evolution of the dynamics of innovation over the past 150 years. He observed that innovations are influenced by the prevailing economic and political context. In his opinion, Québec’s innovation structures are not efficient enough; there is a time lag between significant investment and the production of innovation. This problem could be partially resolved by accelerating the dissemination process.

Following this project – whose influence goes beyond academic circles – Michel Jébrak was able to put his expertise to work in Québec, in particular within the context of a regional economic development project aimed at evaluating the innovative potential of the northern resources sector. He has also been asked by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada to train Canadian delegates posted overseas, in the Lorraine region of France, to contribute to the organization of research, and by mining exploration service companies to refine their innovation strategies.