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.
We’ve provided ongoing engineering and environmental expertise, including compliance consulting, at Vale’s Sudbury facilities for over 16 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 recently completed a $1-billion investment in an Atmospheric Emissions Reduction (AER) program that cut its smelting plant’s sulphur dioxide emissions by 90%. This was the largest environmental investment in Sudbury’s nearly 140-year mining history.
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. Our team began by working closely with the facility’s operators to understand the unique features of the operation.
Vast scale. The Copper Cliff operations include air contaminant emissions from more more than 1,000 sources (stacks, areas, fugitive sources). Gathering and analyzing data to model these emissions 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.
Multi-range Quantification of Emissions. After ensuring that we fully understood the client’s goals as well as their operational context, we embarked on a decade long monitoring and modelling project that included detailed emission inventory assessments, regulatory and specialty dispersion modelling, 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, for submission to government agencies.
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, who advised on the performance of several different 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.
Today, Vale continues to operate and meet all air quality regulatory requirements at their multiple facilities located in the Sudbury Basin. We continue to work in partnership with Vale to maintain, verify and improve the operation’s environmental performance and to meet new regulatory challenges as they arise.