Vale is a leading producer of nickel, copper, cobalt and precious metals, based in Toronto, Canada. Vale is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Companhia Vale do Rio Doce, the world's second-largest mining company by market capitalization. Vale has over 12,000 employees worldwide and had net sales last year of over US$8 billion. Vale is committed to the pursuit of sustainable growth by operating with respect for the natural environment and being an ethically and socially responsible company.
In recent decades there have been huge advances in environmental protection, landscape revitalization and air quality in the Greater Sudbury area. In many ways, Vale has been at the forefront of these changes. Today, the company continues to be a community leader in reducing the energy consumption of its own operations and in supporting initiatives to improve environmental sustainability in the Sudbury area. At Vale, the idea is pervasive that legacy issues must be addressed, even though today's environmental impact is minimal in comparison.
100 years of Clean Renewable Power
In 2006, Vale celebrated 100 years of hydroelectric power generation at its operations in Sudbury, demonstrating the company's longstanding support of innovation to improve the sustainability and efficiency of its operations. Truly a pioneer in this field, Vale began generating its own hydropower the same year that the Ontario Legislature passed the Power Commission Act, which eventually led to the creation of Ontario Hydro. One hundred years later, operational solutions at Vale are still on the leading edge of technology.
FBR SO2 Abatement Project
Since sulphur dioxide (SO2) is one of the most harmful by-products of smelting nickel ore, SO2 is one of Vale's biggest targets for emission reductions. Since the Ontario government introduced the Countdown Acid Rain Program in 1986, the company has spent close to $1 billion to reduce SO2 emissions at its Sudbury operations. The company's current goal is to lower SO2 emissions to 66 kilotonnes by 2015.
A new state-of-the-art $115 million facility, that began operating at the Vale smelter late in 2006, has already put a sizable dent in the kilotonnes of SO2 that the company emits. From a previous 265 kilotonnes, Vale's annual SO2 emissions in Sudbury are down to 175 kilotonnes. The facility uses unique fluid bed roaster (FBR) off-gas scrubbing technology to capture SO2 from the smelter and convert it into sulphuric acid and liquid sulphur dioxide, which are both saleable products. The new fluid bed roaster facility also has the potential to decrease total metal emissions of nickel, copper, arsenic and lead by 80 to 100 tonnes per year.
Improving environmental sustainability is an ongoing process; it is not something that needs only to be done when there is new technology to apply. Environmental sustainability can be pursued on a daily basis through simple actions that conserve energy.
Vale has delivered this message in an energy presentation that is part of employee orientation requirements since the mid-1990s. The employee engagement strategy is supported by an initiative called Powerplay, whereby Vale acts on employee suggestions to save energy. Powerplay is the most recent in about twenty years of programs to achieve more energy efficient operations. During its three-month pilot run at the Vale Smelter in 2001, 500 employees submitted 650 energy-saving ideas. After the success of the program at the smelter, the Nickel Refinery and Copper Refinery also started to participate, and in just five years, Powerplay resulted in $60 million in energy savings across all Vale operations in Sudbury. The initiative is based on the idea that operators have an intimate knowledge of their workspaces and therefore know best where inefficiencies exist. Their suggestions are evaluated and ranked based on ease of implementation and the potential for payback. On a per plant basis, Vale takes on approximately 100 Powerplay projects each year. Some are very simple, such as reducing the mine air raise heating setpoint at McCreedy Mine by 1oC. Others, such as an off-peak pumping program at Stobie Mine, require some infrastructure improvements to implement. However, all result in significantly improving the energy efficiency of Vale's operations.
You can't control what you can't measure. Thus, Vale hopes a new comprehensive metering program will make it easier to identify where inefficiencies exist and determine the impact of correcting them in terms of reduced energy usage. By quantifying energy use for specific processes and assigning accountability for energy use, managers will be able to benchmark, compare consumption and measure performance. For instance at the Nickel Refinery Increasing throughput in a powder decomposer has led to a reduction of 10% in power consumption per pound of nickel produced. Measurement is the basic tool that confirms success.
Sustainable Leak Prevention Program
Another major initiative to minimize wasted energy is the Sustainable Leak Prevention Program (SLPP). The SLPP is a collaborative effort between Vale, the Ontario Mining Association and the Ontario Power Authority to reduce leakages in Vale's compressed air systems. The compressed air systems in underground mines are one of the largest contributors to the mine's electricity costs. When a system leaks, the energy wasted can be likened to that of a steadily leaking household faucet - except a leaky tap might waste 800 litres of water a month, while a single 1/8" hole in a compressed air tube wastes air at a rate of about 12 litres per second!
The Ontario Mining Association has completed audits of the compressed air system at Vale's South Mine and is now assessing the system at the Creighton Mine. Identifying and repairing the compressed air leaks is a cost-effective way to increase energy efficiencies and to ensure ongoing low-cost nickel production.
Vale continues to be a vital partner in improving quality of life in Greater Sudbury. In addition to providing tremendous support to community projects each year, Vale is also highly involved with many environmental projects in Greater Sudbury.
Re-greening and Beautification
4600 feet underground at the Creighton Mine in Sudbury Vale maintains, of all things, an underground greenhouse! Growing approximately 250,000 red pine and jack pine trees each year at that site, as well as at a greenhouse in Copper Cliff, Vale has a homegrown supply of trees that are earmarked for planting in local reclamation projects. About half of the trees raised are planted on Vale's industrial property as part of an ongoing re-greening program. The remaining trees are donated to the Vegetation Enhancement Advisory Committee (VETAC), an organization responsible for Greater Sudbury's land reclamation activities, and a number of other community groups. Additionally Vale conducts an aerial seeding program re-greening historically stressed properties within the community.
Vale supports a Liaison Committee with Copper Cliff residents to address community issues, and has taken on many beautification projects in and around Copper Cliff as a result of community feedback. The most recent large-scale project (and one of Vale's biggest projects ever) is the re-greening of three kilometers of slag piles located just east of Copper Cliff. Last year Vale began sloping and grading the slag piles. During phase two, Vale covered the piles in several inches of clay and then hydro-seeded them with a mixture of grass seed, fertilizer, lime and very strong mulch that is particularly suited to slopes. In the next few years, trees and shrubs will be planted to further anchor the soil, transforming a formerly black, industrial landscape into attractive green hills. The $4 million project has been funded entirely out of Vale's operating budget.
Sudbury Soils Study
In 2001, the Ontario Ministry of the Environment (MOE) issued a report detailing the concentrations of nickel, cobalt, arsenic and copper in surface soils near smelting operations in Sudbury. The MOE recommended that a more detailed assessment be undertaken. Vale voluntarily accepted the recommendation and, with Xstrata Nickel Inc. (formerly Falconbridge Ltd), jointly funded what has become known as the ‘Sudbury Soils Study'. A Technical Committee with representation from the Ministry of the Environment, the Sudbury & District Health Unit, the City of Greater Sudbury, Health Canada (First Nations and Inuit Health Branch) and the two mining companies are overseeing the study, with a Public Advisory Committee representing citizens' interests. The Sudbury Soils Study assesses both human and ecological health by conducting a human health risk assessment (HHRA) and ecological risk assessment (ERA).
The study is the most comprehensive assessment of its kind ever to be conducted in Ontario, testing not only soil samples, but also local vegetable gardens, locally grown commercial produce and water samples taken from residential wells. Vale is committed to addressing the findings identified in the final HHRA and ERA reports.
Co-operative Freshwater Ecology Unit
In 1989, Vale was one of the founding partners of the Co-operative Freshwater Ecology Unit (Co-op Unit). Based out of Laurentian University, the Co-op Unit is an internationally renowned research and monitoring group studying the impact of human activities on the lakes, streams and wetlands in Northern Ontario environments. In particular, the Co-op Unit tracks the effect of restoration and remediation techniques on water quality and overall lake health, information that is still critical for Vale today in gauging and validating the success of many company environmental initiatives.
In 2008 construction will begin on the Co-op Unit's latest project – the Living with Lakes Centre – a new state-of-the-art facility for leading edge aquatic research that is built entirely according to green design principles. The 28,500 sq.ft facility is on schedule to be the first institutional building in Canada to receive LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum certification. Vale paid for a feasibility study of the project and contributed $300,000 towards a detailed design study of the proposed Centre.
Clean Air Sudbury
The Clean Air Sudbury Committee aims to improve local air quality and reduce greenhouse gases in Greater Sudbury. Vale was one of the founding members of Clean Air Sudbury and continues to participate on the Committee.
Junction Creek Stewardship Committee
Vale is a key sponsor of the Junction Creek Stewardship Committee and its activities, most recently donating $80,000 (spread over four years) to help ensure the continued operation of the Stewardship Committee's education programs and restoration efforts.
Mining and the Environment International Conference
Every four years Sudbury hosts an international conference on Mining and the Environment. The conference brings together technical experts, policy makers and regulators from around the world to address mine, land and waterways rehabilitation and related environmental protection issues. Around 400 delegates with backgrounds in science, engineering, and technology, and representing 25 countries, typically attend. Vale sits on the organizing committee for the conference, and is one of dozens of mining, technology, and consulting companies that provide financial resources.
Feasibility studies have been carried out in partnership with Natural Resources Canada on using fuelcell technology for underground mining applications at Vale, and on using Vale's active mines as sources of geothermal energy that could heat institutional buildings. Since the greatest cost of geothermal energy lies in boring holes deep enough to extract heat, Sudbury (with its numerous mine shafts) may have the potential to become a leader in geothermal energy. Vale is continuing to investigate the possibility of generating geothermal energy at its mines and to amass support for this innovative concept.
Achievements and Outcomes
- Between 1990 and 2005 Vale cut energy usage by 10%, increased production by 20%, and decreased the amount of energy used per pound produced by 30%.
- Vale is on track to meet SO2 reduction targets (to 66 kilotonnes) by 2015.
- Vale's leadership in energy conservation is attracting the attention of other large industrial energy consumers, some of which have arranged meetings and tours with Vale energy department staff to learn from Vale's energy-saving successes. Vale has also been recognized as a leader by the provincial government through Ontario's Chief Energy Conservation Officer.
- On two occasions Vale received the Mining Sector Leadership Award for Gold Level Reporting from the Voluntary Challenge Registry - the only mining company in Canada to win the leadership award more than once. Additional recognition has included the Office of Energy Efficiency Award, presented by Natural Resources Canada, the Industrial Energy Innovator's Award, presented by the Canadian Industry Program for Energy Conservation and Natural Resources Canada, and the Electrical Energy Efficiency Award - Northeastern Region, presented by Ontario Power Generation.
- Since the early 1990's Vale has planted 2.7 million seedlings and seeded 4900 acres aerially.
Implementation of the EarthCare Sudbury Local Action Plan (LAP)
Vale is continually taking on projects to further reduce the amount of energy that company operations consume. Likewise, new strategies to improve energy efficiency are developed on an ongoing basis. Aside from merely managing energy consumption, Vale is also investigating innovations in alternate energy including wind generation, alternative fuel vehicles and geothermal projects.
Vale puts its money where its mouth is when encouraging reduced emissions of air pollutants by taking significant strides to improve the impact of its own operations on air quality. The company closely monitors its pollution reduction initiatives and regularly reports its achievements, thereby promoting an improving quality of place in Greater Sudbury as a whole. Vale is also an active member of the Clean Air Sudbury Committee.
One of Sudbury's most active corporate citizens, Vale has initiated, funded and participated in community-based initiatives that address most themes of the Local Action Plan, including landscape recovery, soils, air quality, economy, energy and youth engagement.