Can you imagine it? Green mining? Heavy extractive industrial operations without a heavy carbon footprint? A carbon-neutral Iron Range?
Two Canadian mines are about to start digging into research that could lead to what many of us probably consider impossible. They’re going to be testing a way to trap carbon dioxide in mine tailings, the waste from ore mining, to practically end greenhouse-gas emissions during the sort of mining we are so familiar with here in Northeastern Minnesota.
Mining Weekly, a publication out of South Africa, reported in late July about funding for the test project: $2 million from the Natural Resources Canada’s Clean Growth Program to test more than a decade of research into how carbon dioxide and magnesium silicate-rich mine tailings react.
“The reaction traps the (greenhouse gases) into a solid, cement-like mineral, where it can remain in a benign state for thousands of years or more,” as the publication explained the technology.
“We estimate that reacting just 10 percent of a mine’s waste stream could be more than enough to offset the annual carbon emissions produced by a mining operation,” project leader Greg Dipple of the University of British Columbia further explained in the report.
In addition to capturing carbon dioxide, the process also could stabilize tailings piles and reduce dust at mining sites, Mining Weekly said.
Industry is on board with this initiative to go greener, too. Another $1.2 million for the project is being provided by global miners De Beers, FPX Nickel, Giga Metals, and Geoscience BC. Other players include the University of Alberta, Trent University, and the Institut national de la recherche scientifique in Quebec City. The research is supported by the governments of British Columbia, Yukon, and Northwest Territories.
It can be supported by all of us who care about the future of our planet as well as our need for metals like nickel and copper that power our modern living, specifically things like cell phones, smart devices, wind turbines, and even the cars we drive.
The field trials will take place at De Beers' Gahcho Kué diamond mine in the Northwest Territories, where carbon dioxide will be captured from the power plant, and at a nickel mine in British Columbia, where the carbon dioxide will be directly from the atmosphere.
“We’ve demonstrated rapid carbon fixation within days to weeks in the lab, but the challenge is to reproduce this success at large volumes,” Dipple said, according to Mining Weekly. “With this generous funding from Geoscience BC, we will, for the first time in the world, map out the carbon storage potential of serpentinite rock across an entire mountain chain. … The results will assist in the planning of future carbon-capture and -storage projects.”
“Our work will help to unlock the potential of these minerals as an effective resource for managing greenhouse-gas emissions and will contribute to making Canada’s resource sector more environmentally and economically sustainable,” the publication quoted team member and associate professor Sasha Wilson as saying.
Green mining. Hard to imagine. But perhaps not for long. Technology and research being tested now could soon transform and revolutionize mining in Northeastern Minnesota, too.