City’s fu­ture elec­tric: Vale

Sud­bury pro­duces the type of nickel needed for elec­tri­cal ve­hi­cles and their bat­ter­ies, Ri­cus Grim­beek tells cham­ber

The Sudbury Star - - FRONT PAGE - JIM MOODIE

When asked re­cently if he thought Sud­bury could ex­pect an­other five good years of min­ing, the an­swer Ri­cus Grim­beek gave was ‘no.’

It wasn’t, how­ever, be­cause the chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer for Vale’s North At­lantic Op­er­a­tions feels ac­tiv­ity will dry up sooner than that.

“I had my poker face on,” he told a crowd gath­ered for a Cham­ber of Com­merce lun­cheon on Thursday. “I be­lieve there’s an amaz­ing fu­ture here in Sud­bury for the next cou­ple of decades, not just the next five years.”

Driv­ing that con­fi­dence is an ex­pected boom in elec­tric ve­hi­cles, which re­quire cop­per and nickel for their bat­ter­ies.

Grim­beek, who hails from South Africa but now lives in Sud­bury, said part of the rea­son he joined Vale was the op­por­tu­nity “to ab­so­lutely im­pact the cli­mate-change work we need to do as a so­ci­ety.”

In 2018, there were two mil­lion elec­tri­cal ve­hi­cles pro­duced, he said, but over the next half-dozen years that num­ber is ex­pected to climb to 15 to 20 mil­lion.

“There’s go­ing to be an ex­plo­sion in the need for nickel and for cop­per,” he said.

Vale ac­tu­ally mines more cop­per than nickel at present, he noted, but de­mand for the lat­ter will grow con­sid­er­ably as more battery-pow­ered cars are built and sold.

“The beauty of the nickel that we pro­duce is that it’s Class 1 nickel,” he said. “To make a battery you need nickel sul­phide and to do that you need Class 1 nickel to dis­solve the nickel into the acid. We are the world’s big­gest pro­ducer of Class 1 nickel and Sud­bury has the ore bod­ies that will ab­so­lutely be able to pro­duce this over the next 10, 15, 20, 30 years.”

Grim­beek said Sud­bury is also poised to be­come “the global hub for dig­i­tal un­der­ground min­ing,” of­fer­ing ex­per­tise and train­ing for other Vale op­er­a­tions across the hemi­sphere.

The COO over­sees Cana­dian mines in Thomp­son, Man. and Voisey’s Bay, Nfld., as well as re­finer­ies in Wales and Asia.

“The in­tent of the North At­lantic busi­ness is that it will be run from Sud­bury,” he said. “We’re cre­at­ing what we call the cen­tral node, or hub.”

Grim­beek likened this setup to “a NASA cen­tre,” with staff based in Sud­bury co­or­di­nat­ing ac­tiv­i­ties across sev­eral con­ti­nents.

The COO said he per­son­ally had the op­tion of liv­ing in Toronto, but it was an “easy choice” to move to the Nickel City. “Sud­bury is such an invit­ing place,” he said. “You’ve got some amaz­ing uni­ver­si­ties and in­fra­struc­ture. We need to be proud of Sud­bury and talk to the world about what can be done here.”

He ad­mit­ted he’s had to dodge a few pot­holes — and had to in­vest in “a cou­ple new bikes” — but said he’ll take that over the kind of traf­fic jams he’s ex­pe­ri­enced get­ting in and out of the GTA.

Grim­beek said he also had the op­tion of keep­ing a pri­vate of­fice at Vale but quickly swapped that for a desk in an “open-plan setup,” where North At­lantic man­agers and sup­port staff work to­gether.

“It’s so much fun,” he said. “You get to see one an­other; there are no si­los; and you can ac­tu­ally make de­ci­sions a lot faster. And that’s the start of the cen­tral hub that over time we will be run­ning all the op­er­a­tions from.”

With seven min­ing op­er­a­tions and three milling sites, Vale has “many levers to pull in terms of feed to the mills and a host of dif­fer­ent prod­ucts we can pro­duce de­pend­ing on what the mar­ket wants,” he said. “But this is also why you need to use dig­i­tal, be­cause it’s a su­per com­plex flow sheet and there are so many op­tions. You need re­ally big com­put­ing power to help work out what the best sce­nar­ios are and link to the mar­kets.”

With au­to­ma­tion and ro­bot­ics, the work­force for min­ing is chang­ing, said Grim­beek, and it’s im­por­tant to have a di­ver­sity of peo­ple at all lev­els, in­clud­ing lead­er­ship.

In­cor­po­rat­ing dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy is es­sen­tial, as it al­lows for more ef­fi­cient, real-time plan­ning, but so is en­gag­ing the work­force in de­ci­sion-mak­ing, he said.

“A lot of peo­ple think dig­i­tal and tech­nol­ogy is about the gad­gets and the pro­grams,” he said. “It’s ac­tu­ally not. It’s ev­ery­thing to do with peo­ple. What we have to do is put peo­ple in the right spots so they can use data ef­fec­tively.”

Grim­beek said he sees Sud­bury in five years be­com­ing “a place where peo­ple can come to learn min­ing in a dig­i­tal world,” al­though to get there re­quires a change in ap­proach.

The min­ing in­dus­try “is very well-known for be­ing an ego sys­tem — very hard to break into, very siloed, very opin­ion­ated,” he said. “What we need is an ecosys­tem — and that means to­tally dif­fer­ent re­la­tion­ships be­tween min­ing com­pa­nies, sup­pli­ers, govern­ments, work­ers, man­age­ment. All that needs to shift, be­cause the old sys­tems aren’t go­ing to work.”

For those who ar­gue “min­ing is so phys­i­cal it will never be im­pacted by dig­i­tal, or in any case not in the next cou­ple of years,” Grim­beek points to the ex­pe­ri­ence of other sec­tors.

“I think the taxi in­dus­try also thought that be­fore Uber,” he said. “The same with ho­tels and Airbnb.”

Change is al­ready hap­pen­ing in min­ing, he said, but Sud­bury has a great op­por­tu­nity to not only keep pace, but be a global leader in the new world of min­eral ex­trac­tion.

He pointed to a re­cent deal be­tween Vale and Glen­core to code­velop an ore body as one ex­am­ple of “stepping be­yond the same old, same old.”

Sud­bury can draw on ex­cel­lent aca­demic in­sti­tu­tions and re­search or­ga­ni­za­tions, as well as a vi­brant sup­ply sec­tor, he said, while its min­eral re­sources are un­par­al­leled.

“We have the best ore body in the world,” he said. “And we have a com­mu­nity that sup­ports min­ing. We have ev­ery­thing here. What we need is to cre­ate a clear vi­sion that we want to be the dig­i­tal hub for un­der­ground min­ing in the world.”

He said that will take effort and col­lab­o­ra­tion, but five years from now he en­vi­sions peo­ple “com­ing to Sud­bury to learn, and also send­ing peo­ple from here to take the knowl­edge we’ve built up and work in other parts of the world.”

JOHN LAPPA/SUD­BURY STAR

Ri­cus Grim­beek, COO of Vale's North At­lantic Op­er­a­tions and Asian Re­finer­ies, ad­dresses an au­di­ence at a Greater Sud­bury Cham­ber of Com­merce lun­cheon in Sud­bury, Ont. on Thursday Jan­uary 10, 2019.

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