Washington [US]: A study published in the journal ‘US Department of Energy’ has found that a mining technology pioneered by researchers at the Bureau of Economic Geology at The University of Texas at Austin could reduce the amount of energy needed to access critical minerals vital for modern energy technologies and capture greenhouse gases along the way.
The world is moving towards low-carbon emissions technology, which will require large amounts of lithium, nickel, cobalt, and other critical minerals that exist in low concentrations in the Earth’s crust. Mining those elements takes much energy and produces waste, which can negatively affect the environment and create significant amounts of greenhouse gas emissions such as carbon dioxide (CO2).
The research could turn these emissions into a tool by using CO2 to weaken the rock containing critical minerals, reducing the amount of energy needed for mining. The ultimate goal is to significantly reduce the emissions produced during mining by storing them safely in the rocks, and potentially even make mining carbon negative – storing more carbon than is produced – by piping in and storing CO2 emissions from other industrial operations.
The CO2 storage is possible because of the way ultramafic rocks, which typically contain critical minerals, react with carbon. The CO2 chemically reacts with the rock to mechanically break its structure, making the minerals easier and less energy-intensive to mine. This reaction also partially turns the rock into limestone, incorporating the carbon dioxide into the mineral structure and storing it permanently.
“The demand is high now, but we will see a huge increase in the next three to five years as we transition into lower-emission technologies, such as electric vehicles,” said Estibalitz Ukar, a research scientist at the Bureau of Economic Geology at the UT Jackson School of Geosciences.
The research is part of the Mining Innovations for Negative Emissions Resource Recovery program, a new initiative that aims to develop market-ready technologies that will increase domestic supplies of critical elements required for the transition to low-carbon or carbon-free energy.
Ukar is leading a team of scientists that is working to perfect the mining technology, which is supported by a $5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy. The three-year project will work to refine the mining method in the lab for two years before trying a full-scale field test in partnership with Canada Nickel Company.
The project would also make low-grade deposits more economically viable, an important step in increasing the available supply of domestically produced critical minerals.
“This research program, if successful, could be one of several approaches to help advance that effort. The integrated team is critical to success,” said Bureau of Economic Geology Director Scott Tinker.
In addition to the MINER support, Ukar has received a separate $1 million grant from the DOE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory to find places within the U.S. where this new mining technology could be applied. If successful, the technology could be useful in mining operations globally. (ANI)