Charging ahead: driving low carbon nickel solutions for the electric transportation revolution
by Daniel Chaplin, General Manager EPCM Engineering
As concerns about environmental issues escalate, the global race is on to shift to greener, more sustainable economies. With electrification of transportation as a vital tool to combat these issues, the need for metals to be mined and processed using a clean, low carbon approach is critical.
The surging electric vehicle and battery industry is increasingly intent on sourcing nickel and other critical metals from producers demonstrating low-emission, sustainable practices. This significant push is expected to intensify as more stringent sustainability targets become the norm in the market.
Engineering Clean Nickel™ options for the EV market
With a mission to accelerate the transition to clean energy, EV Nickel is a Canadian mining company taking the lead with its Clean Nickel™ strategy. Its goal is to target the lowest possible carbon cost for nickel production at its Shaw Dome Project near Timmins, Ontario.
EV Nickel engaged The EPCM Group to spearhead its Clean Nickel™ R&D strategy, initially focused on developing its bioleaching and carbon capture and storage (CCS) processes. EPCM is coordinating the laboratory and engineering activities to develop the processes and carbon mineralization assessment at Shaw Dome.
The Shaw Dome Project includes the CarLang Area with more than 10km of mineralization and 1.25M indicated and 1.16M inferred tonnes of contained nickel in the A Zone deposit. This is roughly equivalent to the nickel in ~37M electric vehicles. The A Zone represents the first 20% of the full CarLang deposit.
A world’s first for nickel recovery: leveraging proven success in base metals
EPCM is no stranger to developing breakthrough engineering technology for the extraction and recovery of base metals. It has successfully developed pioneering bioleaching technology to recover 100,000 TPA of copper for a global copper producer.
EPCM developed the feasibility study, conducted R&D to prove the concept, and performed basic engineering for bacterial leaching, neutralization, and the solvent extraction and electrowinning (SX/EW) plant. Armed with this expertise, bioleaching and carbon mineralization in nickel production is a natural extension of EPCM’s extensive capability in base metals.
Evaluating low carbon opportunities from processes to plant design
The project will begin in 2023 and be completed by 2024. The lab testing will develop a bench scale bioleaching process followed by the metals recovery process for nickel, cobalt and magnesium. At the same time, EPCM will coordinate the analysis of carbon capture and storage using carbon mineralization.
EPCM will then develop the process flowsheet to prepare and set-up a pilot scale bioleaching and metals recovery circuit. EPCM will also conduct a product and waste evaluation process, initiating engineering for nickel recovery pilot plant after the laboratory testing is completed.
Bioleaching is a creative extraction process using bacteria naturally found at the source of deposits to extract metals from rock. These microorganisms break down the minerals in the rocks or ores. Together with other hydrometallurgical processes, they assist in the recovery of the metals after the ore has been mined, crushed, and turned into a slurry.
It’s a natural way to extract metals without the need for harsh chemicals or intense heat. This makes bioleaching a potential choice compared to traditional methods due to its environmental friendliness and energy efficiency.
Carbon mineralization is another key piece of the puzzle to reduce the environmental impact of nickel production and extraction. This process involves capturing carbon dioxide emissions and converting them into a solid mineral form.
It can be presumed that incorporating carbon mineralization into the nickel production process could offset emissions generated during production. But it could go further than that, potentially enabling the generation of carbon credits — and driving even greater value from a sustainability perspective.
Revved up for a cleaner, greener tomorrow
It’s no secret that conventional methods for nickel production have a significant environmental impact, requiring large amounts of energy and harsh chemicals and processing agents, and generating pollutants and greenhouse gasses. Bioleaching and carbon mineralization — in addition to future streams of Clean Nickel™ R&D — will be instrumental in creating a dramatic shift in environmental outcomes when it matters most.
At The EPCM Group, we specialize in solving our clients’ most difficult operational challenges with single-source, life-cycle solutions. For over 40 years we’ve helped industry leaders around the world with integrated solutions including engineering consulting, automation, spare parts, supply, and service.
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