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“Sustainably Greening the Future” Roundup – Mining and Advanced Materials Industries Harness Materials Science in Green Energy Shift

The Biden Administration has shifted focus to its next major legislative priority in the context of the president’s “Build Back Better” agenda — a multi-trillion dollar jobs and infrastructure package. Billed as a plan to make the economy more productive through investments in infrastructure, education, work force development and fighting climate change, the package will likely dominate the agenda in Washington, DC for the next months.

Tackling America’s crumbling infrastructure will be a behemoth challenge, as we’re not just talking about railways, roads, tunnels and bridges. (Read ARPN principal Daniel McGroarty’s piece on infrastructure reform from a while back here.) But the challenge is even bigger — not only are partisan battle lines drawn, the package will have to reconcile massive needs for material inputs underpinning infrastructure and clean energy investments with inherent geopolitical and sustainability implications.

As policy makers gear up to reconcile the issues we already outlined in more detail here and here — the mining industry, recognizing the growing demand for sustainable mining processes that allow for the responsible extraction of critical minerals in North America, has embraced and harnessed advances in materials science and technology to strike a greater balance between mining and environmental protections.

We’ve already highlighted a series of initiatives by mining companies to significantly reduce carbon emissions or even “close the loop,” (take a look here and here) but more are underway, so it’s time for another “Sustainably Greening the Future” Roundup.

Suppliers of mining operations are also doing their part. As the Biden Administration has already made clear that it will look to increase cooperation with Canada in its quest to secure critical mineral resource supply chains, we’ll include both U.S. and Canadian initiatives in this iteration:

  • British Columbia-based Teck Resources Ltd., Canada’s largest metallurgical coal producer, has announced plans to reduce the carbon intensity of its operations by 33% over the next decade and is aiming for carbon neutrality by 2050 by using more clean energy in its operations.
  • Having developed a patented process for recycling cathode materials from spent lithium-ion batteries, Canada-based American Manganese, an industry member of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Critical Materials Institute (CMI), is working with U.S. National Labs to “promote a circular economy for the lithium-ion battery supply chain and set the standard for high recovery and purity of cathode materials from spent lithium-ion batteries.”
  • U.S.-based precious metals producing and processing group Comstock Mining has partnered with others to “deploy novel [clean energy] technologies for gold processing and extraction across its portfolio” and aims to “efficiently reprocess and renew silver and other strategic metals as part of a ‘clean energy transition’ towards ‘climate-smart mining.’”
  • Rio Tinto has announced plans to construct a new plant to recover tellurium, a co-product of copper refining and a material critical to the green energy transition, at its Kennecott mine in the Utah. By harnessing an innovative extraction processes at an already existing mine site, the company is able to reduce waste while adhering to federal and state environmental standards and minimizing the carbon footprint of the operation.
  • Epiroc, a Europe-based developer/producer of drill rigs, rock excavation and construction equipment, has updated its North American underground mining market strategy to reflect “increasing demand for electrification solutions that deliver savings on maintenance, ventilation and cooling while lessening environmental footprint.” The strategy seeks to support North American mining operations through battery-electric, zero-emission equipment.
  • Clean energy start-up Heliogen has announced a partnership with Rio Tinto to deploy its solar technology at the the largest open pit mine in California, Rio Tinto’s borate project in Boron, California. Using artificial intelligence and computer-vision-controlled mirrors, Heliogen will harness the power of the sun to power operations while cutting the project’s carbon foot print.
  • And more is happening at Boron: Rio Tinto has begun producing battery-grade lithium at a demonstration plant located at the operation using a new extraction process developed on-site. As part of the company’s full-value mining strategy, the global miner seeks to recover lithium out of waste piles stemming from more than 90 years of mining at the site.
  • Barrick Gold Corporation is looking to reprocess tailings at the currently-closed Golden Sunlight Mine in Montana. The project would focus on removing and concentrating sulfur (iron pyrite) —a source of potential water pollution from the mine site. The sulfur would then be sold to and used in gold production by Nevada Gold Mines (NGM). According to Barrick company statements, the combination of rehabilitation with value creation, would serve as a model for Barrick’s future mine closures.

There is a lot of activity here — and we’ll continue to feature these initiatives going forward.