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Materials Science Profiles of Progress: DoE Funds Carbon Capture Project in Minnesota

As the global push towards a low carbon energy future intensifies, the mining industry has been taking significant steps towards reducing its carbon footprint.

As friends of ARPN will appreciate, the catalyst is the materials science revolution redefining how the world uses scores of metals and minerals for technology applications unknown just a few years ago. Enter the concept of carbon capture, which — as Reuters columnist Andy Home recently suggested – “could allow some to move beyond neutrality to become net carbon negative.” 

Home notes that while “[t]he technology for industrial-scale carbon capture and storage is still in its infancy and largely untested,” there are certain minerals that “do it naturally,” and harnessing their potential could in fact turn miners — who “tend to be the perennial villains in the environmental debate,” into “the unlikely pioneers of large-scale and permanent carbon storage.”

Case in point:  the U.S. Department of Energy’s $2.2. million award to fund to a Rio Tinto-led project with joint-venture partner Talon Metals Corp. at the Tamarack Nickel Project in central Minnesota to achieve carbon capture by a process that mineralizes the carbon in rock – a process far more stable than methods that inject carbon, where it remains vulnerable to seepage and fracturing due to earthquakes.

Experts believe that harnessing the natural chemical reactions that convert captured CO2 into rock and stored underground, as currently done at large scale by carbon mineralization company Carbfix at its Coda Terminal in Iceland (see our piece on the issue here), could become an important asset in the push to meet global climate goals, which is why this  new public-private partnership deserves a feature in ARPN’s Materials Science Profiles of Progress series.

In the context of this series, ARPN has been highlighting public-private partnerships that are fueling the materials science revolution which is transforming the ways in which we use and obtain metals and minerals and their work to develop practical solutions to critical minerals issues.

With the help of the just-announced funding via the Department of Energy’s ARPA-E Innovation Challenge the project, to which Rio Tinto will contribute an additional $4 million, seeks to explore “new approaches in carbon mineralization technology as a way to safely and permanently store carbon as rock.”

The company’s technical experts will work with consortium partners from the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), Columbia University, plus private-sector partners Carbfix and Advantek Waste Management.  The project will leverage insight and build on the findings from PNNL’s Wallula Basalt Carbon Storage Pilot Project in Southeastern Washington State, where researchers successfully performed the first supercritical CO2 injection into a basalt reservoir in 2013 and demonstrated the potential to transform CO2 into a “solid form that is immobile and poses no risk of leakage.” 

At a time when the Biden Administration is grappling to reconcile its green credentials with the acknowledged need for domestic resource development, the significance of carbon capture opportunity cannot be overstated, as, in the words of Andy Home, it “could inject a whole new dimension into the heated debate around new mines and metals plants.”