DOE funds carbon antimining at Tamarack
R&D project looks at capturing carbon at nickel-copper mine Metal Tech News – February 16, 2022
Last updated 2/22/2022 at 3:34pm
The United States Department of Energy is investing $2.2 million to explore the holy grail of clean energy projects – a domestic mine that helps to supply the nickel and copper needed to achieve America's electric vehicle and renewable energy ambitions while also pulling carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it as a mineral in rocks for geological periods of time.
Global mining company Rio Tinto is contributing another $4 million and is leading this three-year research and development project that will investigate the carbon storage potential at Tamarack, a nickel-copper mine project in Minnesota that is being advanced by a joint venture between Rio Tinto (49%) and Talon Metals Corp. (51%).
Rio Tinto has assembled a team of climate innovation and research leaders to explore new approaches to permanently storing CO2 as a carbonate mineral.
This phenomenon occurs naturally when CO2 is dissolved in water and interacts with reactive rock formations, such as basalts, to form stable minerals that contain the solidified carbon.
This natural carbon mineral forming process is being mimicked by Carbfix, an Icelandic company that has developed a technology that dissolves CO2 and injects this solution that is similar to sparkling water into rock formations where it reacts to create solid carbonate minerals.
Because carbonated water is more dense than the water occurring in most geological formations, it sinks after being injected. Carbfix says this prevents any CO2 gases from escaping and reentering the atmosphere while the acidic sparkling water reacts with the rocks and the carbon solidifies. A sort of antimining process that removes an element from the atmosphere and turns it into a mineral deposit.
"Carbfix is a global pioneer in carbon mineralization with a proprietary technology that can play a vital role in climate action, having over a decade long experience in safely injecting and storing CO2 from emission sources as well as the atmosphere," said Carbfix CEO Edda Aradottir.
To research the potential of using a similar technology at Tamarack, Rio Tinto's technical team will work with experts at Carbfix, DOE's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Columbia University, and Advantek Waste Management Services. Talon Metals is contributing knowledge of the Tamarack ore body and access to the project for the scientific fieldwork.
"Rio Tinto has assembled a uniquely qualified team of scientists and innovators to explore new approaches to harness carbon mineralization as a way to safely and permanently store carbon sourced from hard-to-abate industries and carbon removed from the atmosphere," said Talon Metals CEO Henri van Rooye. "Talon is pleased to host this project here in Aitkin County Minnesota, which will be at the forefront of new approaches to climate science."
Even before this project, co-funded by DOE, Rio Tinto and Talon were investigating the potential of storing CO2 at a future Tamarack Mine and plan to deploy an innovative direct air capture technology developed by Carbon Capture.
Rio Tinto has invested $4 million to support Carbon Capture and the California-based company's innovative technology. A feasibility study for the deployment of a Carbon Capture system at Tamarack is underway.
There is the potential that the Carbon Capture and Carbfix technologies could work hand-in-hand.
The innovative CO2 sequestration thinking being considered at Tamarack attracted the attention of Tesla Inc., which has entered into a preliminary agreement to acquire 165 million lb of nickel per year from a future mine at the project.
Further information on Tamarack and Tesla's agreement to acquire nickel from a mine developed there can be read at Tesla cuts deal for Minnesota nickel in the January 12, 2022 edition of Metal Tech News.
While improving the ESG credentials and lowering the carbon footprint of producing nickel and copper at Tamarack is the primary objective of the research being co-funded by Rio Tinto, the global mining company has much bigger plans for any carbon-capturing technologies that emerge from the project.
"Our aim is to deliver carbon storage solutions that can help to meet climate targets by reducing and offsetting emissions from our operations and in other industries, and to explore the emerging commercial opportunities carbon storage may offer at Rio Tinto sites around the world," said Rio Tinto Chief Scientist Dr. Nigel Steward. "We will be working with leading researchers and innovators to prove the carbon storage potential of the Tamarack site and develop mineralization solutions that can be used not just here but at other similar locations."