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More Efforts to Turn Same Stone Twice – Companies Announce Partnership to Improve Recovery of Cobalt and Bismuth from Co-Product Streams

Against the backdrop of ever-increasing critical mineral demand to fuel the clean energy transition and 21st century technologies, mining companies are harnessing the materials science revolution to identify innovative ways to process rocks to extract other metals and minerals from existing mines and waste streams.

A case in point: The recent Fortune Minerals/Rio Tinto announcement of a collaboration to develop technology to improve the recovery of cobalt and bismuth.

As part of the partnership announced earlier this month, co-product streams of minerals recovered at Rio Tinto’s Kennecott smelter in Utah will be processed at Fortune’s planned cobalt and bismuth refinery operations in Alberta, Canada, with testing set to take place at both locations.

The agreement ties into the overall context of the buildout of a comprehensive North American critical minerals supply chain, which was agreed upon by the U.S. and Canadian governments in 2020 with the signing of the Joint Action Plan on Critical Mineral Collaboration.  Cobalt and bismuth, both sustainable energy materials, feature on both countries’ critical minerals lists.

With geopolitical pressures and resource nationalism on the rise, looming supply chain challenges have prompted more and more companies and even governments to begin to “turn the same stone twice.” 

In addition to the above-referenced partnership, Rio Tinto already produces tellurium as a co-product at its Kennecott operations where roughly 20 tons of the materials are generated from by-product streams generated during the copper refining process. The company also began partnering with CR Minerals Co. LLC in an effort to extract a material called pozzolans from the facility’s tailings, which can be substituted for or combined with cement to decarbonization construction materials. Meanwhile, in Canada, Rio Tinto is producing scandium from titanium waste, becoming the first North American producer of scandium in the process.

Acknowledging the potential held by mine waste and tailings, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) earlier this spring solicited proposals for FY2023 grants to collect data on mine waste, using funds from Bipartisan Infrastructure Act in the context of the Earth Mapping Resources Initiative (Earth MRI).

Many other efforts have sprung up in the past few years, and ARPN has, and will continue to feature examples on our blog.  (See ARPN’s recent coverage on the industry’s effort to “turn the same stone twice” here and here)

As ARPN stated before,

“As the materials science revolution marches on and continues to unlock new technologies allowing for the safe and commercially viable recovery of mine waste tailings, harnessing this – to date largely untapped — potential could play a significant role in a comprehensive ‘all-of-the-above” approach to bolstering critical mineral supply chains.”