Vale - Copper Cliff Mining Operations

Sudbury, Ontario, Canada

Operating in 30 countries, Vale is one of the world’s largest mining firms and the largest producer of iron ore and nickel. 

Vale’s mining operations in the Sudbury Basin include five mines, a mill, a smelter and a nickel refinery; collectively, these assets constitute the largest integrated mining operation in the Americas. 

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  • The Challenge

    We’ve provided ongoing engineering and environmental expertise, including compliance consulting, at Vale’s Sudbury facilities for over 10 years. This work has involved a wide range of activities including emissions assessments; offering guidance on how older industrial equipment and operational configurations can be adapted to meet today’s air quality standards; and modeling the effects of potential mitigation efforts in order to demonstrate which ones are most effective.

    Key challenges associated with this work include the massive scale of Vale’s work in the area and the historical complexity of the operations, which have been active for over a century. The scale of Vale’s environmental objectives is also worth noting: the firm is in the process of making a $1-billion investment in an Atmospheric Emissions Reduction (AER) program that seeks to cut its smelting plant’s sulphur dioxide emissions by 90%. This is the largest environmental investment in Sudbury’s nearly 140-year mining history.

  • Our Approach

    Vale’s Copper Cliff facility engaged us for technical consulting and regulatory compliance support as it was preparing to meet demanding new air quality regulations in 2009. Our team began by working closely with the facility’s operators to understand the unique features of the operation, including:

    One of the tallest chimneys in the world. This “superstack” is difficult to model accurately, as current air quality dispersion models do not adequately simulate a source of emissions at this height.

    Vast scale. The Copper Cliff operation includes more than 1,000 emissions sources and 10,000 regulatory receptors. Gathering and analyzing data from this network requires a high-performance computing system; we were able to provide both the computing power and the expertise to handle this large volume of data.

    Industrial equipment built over decades. The site has been operating for more than 100 years, and includes infrastructure and configurations that require significant adaptation to meet 21st century air quality standards.
    After ensuring that we fully understood the client’s goals as well as their operational context, we embarked on a multi-year project that included detailed emission inventory assessments; ambient air quality monitoring; sampling of roads and material stockpiles; and portable wind tunnel testing to determine wind erosion characteristics.

    Our work ranged from specific tests – like measuring emissions from small pieces of equipment – to four facility-wide Combined Assessments of Modelling and Monitoring (CAMM) studies, some for submission to the Ministry of the Environment (now Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks).
    The precision of the intelligence we were able to deliver to Vale and regulators was made possible by our team’s deep experience with in-field emissions monitoring and complex dispersion modeling for fugitive emissions sources (such as industrial particulate emissions and fugitive dust). It was also supported by our in-house meteorology team, which advised on the performance of our dispersion models and helped to refine our estimates for both process and fugitive emissions.

    Also important to our efficacy on this project was our team’s regulatory knowledge and our ability to communicate productively with environmental regulators about the work we were doing. Working as collaborative partners with Vale, we attended meetings with regulators and engaged actively with them to refine our estimates and ensure that our deliverables met their needs.

    Our sustained collaboration with Vale not only enabled us to gain deep, nuanced technical insight into their operations, it also let us act as flexible and responsive partners, devoting as many as five full-time staff to the project when modeling and regulatory reporting needs were intensive, and scaling back resources during quieter periods.

  • The Outcome

    In 2011 and 2012, Vale earned regulatory approval and Site Specific Standards for continued operations at the Copper Cliff smelter complex under the stringent post-2009 regulatory regime. On the strength of Vale’s ongoing mitigation efforts and the rigor of our measurement and modeling work, the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (new Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks) approved site-specific standards for the smelting and refining operations. We continue to work in partnership with Vale to improve the operation’s environmental performance and to keep progressing toward the ambitious objectives the firm set under its Atmospheric Emissions Reduction (AER) program.