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:: UBC Graduate Aims to make Mining more Innovative
Andrew Bamber began his PhD at UBC with the idea that mining extraction needed more sustainable technology, and now he’s building it at the helm of Vancouver-based MineSense.
Bamber, 43, remembers the research in his PhD that led him to his role today as Chief Executive of his company, working to break into the mining industry.
“I had a concept stuck on the wall," said Bamber. “Late at night, drinking Painted Turtle wine because that’s all I could afford, and looking for the common thread in all those pieces of post-it papers and finding it."
That was December 2007, but it began before UBC, when he was a Mining Developer and was witnessing his own projects lose money from a sub-optimal metal recovery process.
“My original intent coming to UBC for a one year Masters was to understand that better and get out there," said Bamber, “but a Masters degree became a PhD and a PhD became a technology, [then] a company."
Now his company has their first product. They’ve installed sensors on mining shovels, scoops and belt conveyers. This allows a company to monitor the quality of the ore, and to discard the unprofitable rocks before more resources are wasted.
“Before we came along with our vision for sensors and how they should be built and deployed in the industry," Bamber said, “it wasn’t even believed possible that you could put digital electronics and analog signal electronics and sensors on shovels and have them survive."
Despite impressive projections, Bamber is fighting an uphill battle to get his foot in the door. He has no direct competition, but that’s not the whole story.
The mining industry already faces high risks from the geological, market, political and financing factors, and to give Bamber a try they will have to take on more innovation risk as well, which is a tough sell.
“When they look at a new tech, whether it’s ours or a new one, risk averse companies facing those first order risks don’t instinctively want to add to that even with incremental technology risk, so that kind of drives an inherent technological conservatism in the industry."
Bamber thinks the timing is right though. Mining companies used to marginal energy costs are seeing them rise exponentially, and he says the days of billion dollar mega-projects are over. It’s a comparable climate to the oil sands companies who have had to invest heavily in technology innovation to stay profitable as energy costs have accelerated.
If things go well, Bamber hopes to commercialize the idea by 2015.
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