Dr. Axel Meisen and Mr. Scott Hand, president and CEO, Inco Ltd.

A platform for innovation

It’s a gleaming piece of modern architecture shining out of the centre of the St. John’s campus of Memorial University. It represents the university’s commitment to innovation in research and teaching and will also enhance Memorial’s community-oriented focus.

On Tuesday, Sept. 20, representatives of Memorial University, the provincial and federal governments and Inco Ltd. officially opened the Inco Innovation Centre (IIC), a new $17.3 million research and innovation facility located on the university’s St. John’s campus.

Inco Ltd. committed $13 million towards the capital cost of the facility and $1 million annually for seven years for operations and maintenance. The federal government - primarily through the Atlantic Opportunities Agency’s Business Development Program and the Atlantic Innovation Fund (AIF) - has invested over $23 million over a five-year period in support of ongoing research and development in the IIC.

Containing some 9,000 square metres, the Inco Innovation Centre houses a wide range of research, business support and educational facilities on three floors. Research related to geosciences, hydrometallurgy and the Voisey’s Bay mineral deposit will be concentrated on the first floor of the building. Also on the first level are labs for health, safety and risk engineering, and process engineering and corrosion reduction. The building is also designed to house a small scale model of a hydrometallurgical plant.

In recognition of Inco’s contribution to building Memorial’s new Inco Innovation Centre, President Axel Meisen (L) presented Inco CEO Scott Hand with a plaque. Designed by Helen Houston of University Relations and crafted by Jason Miller and Jason Barrett at Technical Services, the plaque is stainless steel mounted with a piece of the main ore body from Voisey’s Bay, Labrador.

Memorial’s president, Dr. Axel Meisen, stressed the significance of the building.

“The Inco Innovation Centre is a beautiful new facility, but the true value of the new building will come from the innovations that the centre will foster at Memorial,” he said. “Thanks to the generosity and vision of Inco and the government of Canada, the Voisey’s Bay deposit will not only provide the jobs and economic growth one would typically expect, but will also pay other critically important dividends for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador by making Memorial University a stronger, more research intensive and innovative institution.”

“From its earliest days, the Voisey’s Bay project has demanded innovation,” Scott Hand, CEO of Inco Ltd. said. “Not just technical innovation - but social, political, and economic innovation as well. This project has demanded some of the most innovative partnerships this country has ever seen among private industry, government, aboriginal peoples and educational institutions like Memorial University. This approach has been a big part of the project’s success.”

“This is truly a centre for innovation, for invention, for creativity - and I can’t think of a better place for this facility than Newfoundland and Labrador,” said Tom Hedderson, minister of the Department of Education. “This centre is good for industry leaders, researchers and students alike. As minister of education, I am particularly impressed with what it will offer the students. Indeed, I would hope that this centre will lure the best and brightest students from around the world to Memorial.”

Operations at the new facility will not be restricted to the mining industry. The IIC will also play a role in social science research and knowledge transfer. For example, the facility houses the offices of Dr. David Natcher, the Canada Research Chair in Aboriginal Studies and the Centre for Aboriginal Research. In his research, Dr. Natcher is exploring alternative models of community development that take into account not only Labrador’s commercial development versus the subsistence needs of its Aboriginal peoples, but also other factors such as Aboriginal health, nutritional status, educational achievement, access to desired resources, and Aboriginal rights.

At home in the Inco Innovation Centre

The overall scope of research in the Inco Innovation Centre is to conduct R&D for the innovative exploration and exploitation of mineral deposits. Particular emphasis has been placed on the development of process engineering and the process simulation and control systems required for hydrometallurgical mineral processing. Using this base of R&D, the centre will initiate and develop innovative techniques and services establishing itself as a world-class mining innovation centre.

The building holds a lecture theatre, what some consider the hub of the Inco Innovation Centre. The theatre will enable people to come together for learning, business and community development initiatives. The tiered set-up of the lecture theatre is fully equipped for videoconferencing and multimedia presentations and seats up to 300 people.

The centre includes the following research areas:

    LEVEL 1

    Major Research Partnerships and CREAIT Network

    Major Research Partnerships is responsible for financial and administrative support for Memorial’s existing major, AIF-funded research projects, and for assisting in the development of new major projects. An innovative approach to maximizing the use of research equipment, the CREAIT Network is an integrated university-wide network of thematic, core research support and training facilities.

    Health and Safety Laboratory

    Work in this lab will study the safe operation and design of processing facilities, and prevent or minimize their environmental and health impacts. In addition, researchers here will develop new models and methodologies in risk analysis and probabilistic risk assessment.

    Corrosion and Sample Reduction Laboratory

    This laboratory will initially be used to develop an improved understanding of the corrosion processes and mechanisms that occur while nickel-sulfide concentrate is subjected to hydrometallurgical treatments. Scientists hope this knowledge will help reduce maintenance costs associated with corrosion and decrease production downtime.

    Process Modeling and Simulation Laboratory

    Researchers in this lab will develop simulation capability for optimizing a wide range of applications related to process engineering.

    Core Storage

    Drill cores generated from mineral exploration and ore body delineation are an important source of information and material for mineral deposit research.

    Process Engineering Hydrometallurgy Laboratory and Pilot Plant

    Here research and development of hydrometallurgical processes will take place as scientists study process improvements, innovations in processes, seek enhancement in the performance of materials and solution chemistry, and find efficiencies in process engineering.

    Geophysics Laboratory

    As part of the Geophysics Research Program, this lab will develop enhanced interpretation methods for gravity data, seismology and integration.

    Process Control and Automation Laboratory

    Advanced process control techniques will be developed in this laboratory. Initially, the focus of research will be Inco’s hydrometallurgy plant; developing new control techniques for unit operations and plant-wide process control methodologies.

    ICPMS Laboratory

    The Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry (ICPMS) Laboratory consists of two instruments: a single collector for primarily determining the trace element compositions of minerals, fabricated metals and artifacts; and a multi-collector used for determining the source and history of some sorts of materials.

    SEM Laboratory

    The Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) Laboratory is used for imaging small specimens at magnifications near 50,000 times their actual size. The SEM is equipped with a unique Mineral Liberation Analysis (MLA) unit which is the first ever to use a new technology for high-resolution, ultra-high speed electron detection.

    SIMS Laboratory

    In the Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometry (SIMS) Laboratory a sample surface can be bombarded with a primary beam and the emitted secondary ions measured by mass spectrometry. For the Voisey’s Bay deposit in Labrador, the SIMS will help trace the source of sulphur in the ore system as an advanced exploration tool for deep, hidden ore resources.

    LEVEL 2

    Canada Research Chair in Aboriginal Studies

    Given the economic necessities of resource development, coupled with the ever-changing political landscape of Aboriginal rights, it is fortunate that Canada Research Chair Dr. David Natcher is providing us with critical and informed analysis of these two areas of public concern. By promoting collaborative relationships with new and existing partners, both internal and external to the university, Dr. Natcher is strengthening Memorial’s research capacity in cultural ecology and the general cultural milieu of Newfoundland and Labrador.

    Centre for Aboriginal Research

    The Centre for Aboriginal Research (CFAR) consists of senior research associates, visiting scholars, and graduate students from across Canada whose research interests focus on Aboriginal issues. Aboriginal communities and organizations contribute to and help guide the activities of the centre. This includes identification of research priorities, partnering in proposal development, developing appropriate guidelines and protocols for community-based research, and disseminating research outcomes at the community level.

    Genesis Innovation Works

    Space in Genesis Innovation Works will be available for technology-based projects with near-term commercial potential, such as short-term R&D projects or trial production runs. Genesis Innovation Works is part of the GENESIS Group, the technology-commercialization arm of Memorial University. The other components of GENESIS Group are the Genesis Centre, Genesis Research and Genesis Biolabs.

    • RAVEN
    • The Remote Aerial Vehicle for ENvironmental-monitoring (RAVEN) group at Memorial University is working with industrial partner Provincial Aerospace Limited (PAL) to develop ground breaking technology for maritime surveillance using an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).

    • Cathexis Innovations Inc.
    • Cathexis is a global provider of RFID technology. Cathexis’ offerings include wireless, mobile RFID readers, advanced integration software and RFID application models built on its proprietary RFID Engine™ architecture. RFID, like barcodes, is a form of automated identification and data capture technology. RFID is ideal in virtually any industry for tagging, tracking and managing assets such as in the supply chain or inventory control.

    School of Graduate Studies

    The School of Graduate Studies provides a focus for graduate activity across the university and supports more than 2,000 students as active members of a large and energetic community of scholars.

    Beatrice Watts Boardroom

    The Inco Innovation Boardroom is named in honour of the late Dr. Beatrice Watts, a distinguished educator and Labradorian. Naming the room in her honour symbolizes the close ties between the Inco Innovation Centre and Labrador.

    Office of Research

    The Office of Research acts as a liaison between faculty members and the various research funding organizations. Last year researchers at Memorial University generated just over $80 million in external funding in support of their research efforts.

    LEVEL 3

    While not yet fully completed, plans for the third floor of the IIC include:

    The Genesis Group

    The Genesis Centre is a support network for technology-based ventures, which have high-growth potential, and are seeking business guidance and capital. The Genesis Centre helps selected enterprises gain access to the marketing, finance and management expertise of world-class mentors and board personnel. It also connects entrepreneurs to the multi-disciplinary expertise resident at Memorial University of Newfoundland. By helping these entrepreneurs develop comprehensive business plans and implement effective Advisory Boards, the centre prepares promising ventures for private investment.

    Genesis Innovation Works

    Additional space for Genesis Innovation Works has been allocated for the third floor. This space is intended as dynamic space deliberately designed to enable entrepreneurs and inventors to work together with minimal management constraints to develop innovative ideas at the "fuzzy front end" of technology. The space is provided on a time-limited basis in support of innovative collaborations. Technology incubation at ESIS will include both structural facilities and management-oriented services, all designed to assist new and growing businesses involved in developing cutting edge technologies as they establish themselves.

    Multi-disciplinary research space

    The Inco Innovation Centre will also house a project research space for community-based interdisciplinary research. The intention is to provide a supportive environment of office and meeting space where widely dispersed groups from a wide array of disciplines can come together to work on common and finite projects with predetermined timelines.