A New Generation of Diamond MineOctober 27, 22
It's less than a quarter of a century since Canada opened its first diamond mine. Much has changed since Ekati, on the edge of the Arctic Circle, began commercial production in October 1998. Not least a growing awareness of the planet's finite resources. Sustainability is now high on the agenda, which is one of the reasons that Canada's newest diamond mine (still subject to approval) could use airships for transport, autonomous haul trucks controlled from hundreds of miles away, and a nuclear microreactor to provide power.
The Chidliak Project is on the vast and sparsely populated Baffin Island, in the Nunavut territory, home to the Inuit people and famed for its polar bears and spectacular fjords. De Beers says it will be like no other mine anywhere in the world. The miner says it is, for the first time, incorporating the vision it calls FutureSmart Mining, transforming the way it sources, mines, processes, moves and markets its products. Advances in technology mean Chidliak will be physically far smaller than current mines, and could require as few as 200 people on site to operate it.
A modular process plant will be assembled where it's needed, then taken down and moved elsewhere as De Beers targets six small but high-priority kimberlites. Drones, low earth-orbiting satellites, remote monitoring stations, and other technology will monitor the site and provide data. A new generation of airships of gas-powered airships is being developed that can carry payloads weighing hundreds of tons over a distance of thousands of miles. They could provide De Beers with a sustainable alternative to a winter road and transport flights.
"Airships are one of the logistics options identified in the Chidliak Project proposal and are envisioned as a potential low carbon solution for moving material and supplies required for mine operations," Terry Kruger, senior communications officer at De Beers Group Managed Operations (Canada), told us. "Chidliak will build on what we have learned at our other operations in Canada, but will take a giant leap forward in terms of technology development and in developing the right approach to minimise environmental footprint."
He said they'd been working on identifying technologies to develop a mine that "has the lowest possible environmental footprint, is low/zero carbon, modular, movable, scalable with minimal land-based infrastructure, and employs remote and autonomous technologies and a modern employee operating model".
De Beers acquired Chidliak when it bought Peregrine Diamonds in September 2018 for C$107m. Exploration of an 80km by 60km cluster of kimberlites there has been taking place since 2008. So far 71 Kimberlite deposits have been identified and De Beers plans to start with one identified as CH-6. It's estimated to contain about 18 million carats in about 7.5 million tonnes of kimberlite, an estimated grade of about 2.41 carats per tonne to a depth of 525 metres below surface.
Plans for Chidliak were submitted last month to the Nunavut Impact Review Board, which is now seeking the views of anyone who'd be affected by the development. De Beers says it's designing specific solutions to optimize the way it recovers diamonds at Chidliak and is keen to find synergies that would help neighboring communities.
"We envision a future where airships could be used and contribute to re-supply remote communities, at a fraction of the cost and with a fraction of the carbon emissions compared to the current methods," it said. "We are open to working with local communities, governments and other businesses and industries to explore the possibilities of using airships beyond just resupplying a possible Chidliak mine."
Have a fabulous weekend.