Sepro Labs, in collaboration with CanMicro, won the grand prize of $5 million at the national Crush it! competition by developing Microwave Treatment of Ores technology that provides over 35% energy savings compared to standard comminution processes.

The results of the challenge were announced after a four-year intensive program with the goal of finding new solutions for efficient rock processing. CanMicro, in collaboration with Sepro Labs, was one of six finalists selected from nearly 65 applicants.

Microwave Treatment of Ores combines microwave-assisted comminution with multi-sensor ore sorting technology to selectively break particles and sort waste from desired materials. Sepro Labs hosted a pilot plant for the project and was the primary site of research conducted by the team during the four years of competition. In a short interview with several CanMicro team members, this is what they had to say:

Bianca Foggiatto

Technical Director, Comminution and Processing at Ausenco Services Pty

“It was a pleasure to support such a great group of young engineers, all working towards a more energy efficient future […] Keep innovating and challenging the status quo – that is the only way to change our industry towards a greener future!”

Bianca was a technical adviser, helping the team interpret testwork results related to comminution and establish a methodology that could support the predicted reduction in energy requirements. She was the technical representative from Ausenco, who was one of the companies funding the project.

Xinyi (Wendy) Tian

Microwave Business Development at Sepro Labs

“The CrushIt! Challenge was a great experience to work closely with talented peers and inspiring mentors. This experience allowed me to work closely with cutting edge research at the university and also the streamlined efficient operations in the industry. It would be great to have more similar challenges to stimulate the good ideas and also help the industry to adopt innovative technologies. I enjoy working with the development of new technologies, and I want to see them being adopted and contribute to the world. I hope mining companies could support more research centers and bridge the gap between the academia and industry.”

Wendy was in charge of the comminution circuit model and the economic analysis, as well as assisting the sorting test campaign for XRF elemental measurements.

Wendy had these comments to say about overcoming difficulties during the competition:

“We [had] to face the shutdown and delays due to Covid, and push through the experiments with short of staff. Luckily I am working with a great team and we support each other to complete all the experimental and report writing.”

Christine Yu

Undergraduate Mining Engineering Student at The Norman B. Keevil Institute of Mining Engineering

I took part in the CrushIt! Challenge because I was excited about the opportunity to witness the development of an innovative technology from ideation to commercialization int just on textbooks but in the real world. As someone who is passionate about sustainable development, I was particularly drawn to the challenge’s focus on creating solutions that can have a positive environmental and economic impact to the world. And being just a student, I found the prospect of making a real contribution to be incredibly satisfying. Participating in the CrushIt! Challenge allowed me to apply the knowledge and skills I had learned in the classroom to a practical, real-world setting.

Additionally, I was excited about the prospect of meeting experienced professionals in various fields who could offer valuable insights and mentorship. I saw this as a great opportunity to learn from some of the best and brightest minds in the industry and gain valuable experience that could help me in becoming someone as awesome as them.”

Christine was a metallurgical technician Coop in the CanMicro Team. Her role was to help conduct various laboratory duties such as microwave infrared sorting test, XRF, grinding tests, gravity concentration, sieve analysis, and bond work index test, and to support the development of metallurgical experiments aimed at optimizing the results.

Christine had these comments to say about overcoming difficulties during the competition:

“One of the main challenges was a physical one. The competition involved long hours of work, often requiring me to stand for extended periods of time and work on tasks that were physically demanding. This was a new experience for me, and I found it a little challenging to maintain my energy and focus throughout the day.

In addition to the physical challenge, I also faced a great deal of pressure to perform. With tight deadlines and the importance of each step in the process, I felt nervous about making mistakes that could set us back or potentially derail our progress. However, I received a huge amount of mentorship and support from my supervisors and the team that allowed me to quickly learned to embrace the pressure and use it as motivation to focus on the task at hand.”

With excellent mentors and enthusiastic team members, the CanMicro team has a bright future ahead of them as Sepro Labs continues to proceed with the commercialization process of Microwave Treatment of Ores technology.

A full video series on the technology can be found here: