Skip to content

Active mining companies provide funding for academic researchers in remediation

Research Chair for Northern mining says, remediation of abandoned mines is a nightmare
Dry stack tailings from Alexco’s Flame and Moth mill right beside Keno City. (Lawrie Crawford/Yukon News)

Yukon’s Office of the Science Advisor is working hard to make the research that happens through the Northern Research Centre more accessible and the names that work there, more recognizable.

On Feb. 25, Dr. Guillaume Nielsen, Yukon University’s Industrial Research Chair for Northern Mining, presented his remediation research projects to a body of interested people gathered through Yukon Science Community of Practice (SCOPe) at their Lunch-and-Learn webinar series.

Yukon University has been able to attract and retain more research positions for the university and is growing the reputation of the university’s Centre for Northern Innovation in Mining. Funding for the centre is stitched together with funds from Employment Skills Development Canada, or Crown Indigenous Relations, and other sources such as NSERC. NSERC is the common name for the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, Canada’s federal funding agency for college and university-based research.

Nielsen became the NSERC Industrial Research Chair at Yukon University In 2019 and is now three-and-a-half years into his five-year term.

Being an NSERC Chair differs a little from being the Canada Research Chair program, in that it focusses on applied research. And although the appointment comes with a $900,000 grant spread over 5 years, it requires active commercial partners to cost-share a portion of the research costs.

Yukon University’s Centre for Northern Innovation in Mining is designed to be industry-driven. The majority of members on its governing council hail from Yukon mining companies.

Dr. Bronwyn Hancock, associate vice president at Yukon University, says that the council helps with the strategic direction of the centre, recommending courses and training opportunities, as well as setting research priorities.

Dr. Nielsen’s focus on passive mine remediation is in partnership with a consortium of seven active mining companies, almost the same names as on the Governing Council — Minto Metals, Victoria Gold, Alexco Resources, Selwyn Chihong, Newmont, Western Copper & Gold, and BMC Minerals. All eager to have academic researchers helping solve their problems of the areas of mine waste and remediation.

NSERC project funding is only 50 per cent cash — the other contributions come from the industrial partners that help focus the applied research to solve problems facing their businesses with matched funding – 25 per cent cash and 25 per cent in-kind. Nielsen says the in-kind contributions come in the form of accommodations on site, meals and use of equipment.

All research remains in the public sphere, and researchers maintain their academic independence.

The real-world problems that Nielsen’s research addresses are mine waste management, mine site revegetation and he is experimenting with treating water by passive or semi-passive technologies. All are complicated with cold weather and freeze-thaw cycles in the north.

The issues for new mines are not the same as for abandoned mines.

In a Dec. 13 interview with the News, Nielson explained the difference between abandoned and active mines. He said, “The first thing you don’t do is leave tailings on the surface and let them oxidize.” And as for Faro, “it is a huge site, it is like dust, and you have to handle this because it has been created. And that’s the nightmare. It’s an abandoned mine.

“The active mines that I’m working with, they already know you don’t do that. So, you cap it with new technologies. There are a lot of things you can do to prevent an environmental mess.”

But once you have that mess, that’s a different story. Nielsen’s plate is full. He has experiments underway, he is developing education programs for youth in Pelly Crossing; and is busy collecting data and trying to make thing work without copious quantities of lime.

When Nielsen was a PhD. student, he discovered that molasses would stimulate microorganisms to remediate sludge ponds near Keno City. He works to find alternatives to adding lime, which is the most common and cheapest method of water treatment.

During his lunch presentation, using a picture of an old bridge in France, he explained the chemistry that makes the continual maintenance of lime-based remediations necessary forever. Several abandoned mines remediation plans are presenting a need to treat in perpetuity, instead of being restored and closed.

The NSERC program that makes Nielsen’s research possible will run for two more years. Nielsen said the anticipated five-year renewal opportunity has been stopped by federal programmers.

The SCOP(e) webinar Feb. 25 drew about 22 participants. The session, with time left at the end, provided an opportunity for a cross-fertilization of ideas and practices from across disciplines. Randy Lewis, a researcher with decades of experience with Yukon plants and seeds, ended up in conversation with Nielsen about the importance of creating local seed banks from the same area prior to earth disturbance and mining. This ensures that the seeds from the same area are available for reclamation at the close of operations.

This is the purpose of SCOPe — to encourage discussions and provide an opportunity for the public to hear from those that generate knowledge and are addressing pressing questions for Yukon and beyond.

To join SCOPe email the Office of the Science Advisor at The speaker series is pausing for spring break but will resume March 24.

Contact Lawrie Crawford at