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MEI Online: Environmental Issues: Latest News: October 29th 2019


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:: Can Microwaving Rocks cut a Mining Company's Power Bill?


A University of Toronto professor, is working on a project to capture carbon from the atmosphere with nickel ore and mine tailings. At the same time, Dr. Erin Bobicki is studying the idea of using microwave energy to weaken rocks in the ore-grinding process, something that is expected to be a huge energy cost saver. It might lead to the construction of a demonstration plant in Sudbury.

Bobicki is an assistant professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the U of T. She was a guest speaker at a recent Northern Ontario Innovation event sponsored by the Ontario Chamber of Commerce at the NORCAT Centre in Sudbury. She was one of the finalists named in the 2019 Natural Resources Canada Crush-It Challenge to find cleaner and more energy-efficient technology for ore crushing and grinding in the mining industry.

She was also awarded $471,000 this year in a research partnership with Vale Canada to find ways to capture environmental carbon with mine tailings. “Yes, it has been known for a number of years, actually, that mine tailings, asbestos tailings, things with serpentine in them, any sort of alkaline rock material that can be waste, actually passively takes up CO2. So there are mining companies across the world that are monitoring this and using it to offset CO2 credits and things,” Bobicki said in an interview with Sudbury Mining Solutions Journal.

The tailings project is sponsored by Vale and is directed toward climate change mitigation. “Asbestos tailings in Québec, the piles are actually reacting with CO2 that is in the air and converting it to carbonate minerals. And carbonate minerals are very thermodynamically stable. It takes either a lot of heat or a lot of acid to release that CO2, so it's a very stable form of carbon storage,” she said.

Bobicki said the idea is to create a carbon reaction with the nickel ore before sending it in for the conventional processing. The process is called carbonating. “So, some of these ores that contain these minerals, one of the main ones is called serpentine and it makes processing very difficult. It adheres to the valuable minerals and makes it difficult to recover them in flotation. It increases the viscosity of the slurries,” she explained. “This new project is carbonating upstream to enhance nickel extraction, so that by converting that serpentine to carbonate minerals, and storing that CO2, we can actually enhance the extraction of nickel from the ore because we don’t have that serpentine anymore. We destroyed it in carbonation."

As a follow-up, Bobicki said the carbonate rocks are ideal for creating a value-added product for creating concrete cement. The cement could be used in solidifying backfill material in mines, along with the obvious construction uses in mines and mills as well as regular civil engineer projects.




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