TSX-listed nickel/cobalt sulphide project company Canada Nickel Company has created a wholly-owned subsidiary, NetZero Metals, to begin the research and development of a processing facility aimed at using existing technologies to produce zero-carbon nickel, cobalt and iron products.
The facility will be located in Timmins, Ontario.
The nickel industry faces a number of challenges as the current processing approach of laterite and sulphide ores generate a significant environmental footprint in the form of sulphur dioxide (SO2) and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.
Canada Nickel states that these environmental challenges will only worsen given the industry's supply profile.
In addition, the company points out that the main source of future production growth is nickel pig iron production in Indonesia, which Canada Nickel attributes to industry sources, uses 25 t to 30 t of coal to produce each tonne of nickel.
This, states the company, when combined with other sources of CO2, generates about 90 t of Scope 1 and Scope 2 CO2 emissions per tonne of nickel produced.
For an electric vehicle (EV) battery pack that contained 50 kg of nickel from this source, it would represent about 4 t of CO2 emissions.
Canada Nickel has applied for trademarks for the terms NetZero Nickel, NetZero Cobalt and NetZero Iron in the US, Canada and other jurisdictions related to zero-carbon production of nickel, cobalt and iron products.
Canada Nickel chairperson and CEO Mark Selby says the EV industry and many other consumer sectors need zero-carbon metals this decade – “not in a nebulous 2050 timeframe contemplated by many other resource companies.”
He says that, as a result of the unique advantages of the Timmins region, with its close proximity to zero-carbon hydroelectricity and the company’s Crawford nickel/cobalt sulphide project, Canada Nickel has the potential to develop the zero-carbon products that its customers are expecting from the mining sector.
“With nickel as a preferred metal to power the clean energy revolution, our commitment to net zero-carbon production is the right step to take for the environment, for consumers and for our investors,” says Selby.
Serpentine rock, the host rock comprising more than 90% of the mass of the resource at the Crawford project, has had numerous studies completed that note that the rock naturally absorbs CO2 when exposed to air through a naturally-occurring process of spontaneous mineral carbonation.
In addition to the NetZero Metals facility, Canada Nickel will explore the use of various alternatives to achieve its net-zero objectives in each stage of the mining process, including mining, milling and processing.
In terms of mining, the company states that the biggest single technology to reduce the carbon footprint of mining activities is the use of electric rope shovels and trolley trucks. In this regard, given the close proximity to hydroelectric generating capacity, electricity use in place of diesel fuel has the potential to significantly reduce carbon emissions.
The deposition of waste rock and tailings during the mining process will also expose the serpentine rock to air which provides the potential for this material to absorb CO2 through natural mineral carbonation and offsetting any CO2 emissions from the project.
In terms of milling, Canada Nickel states that, traditionally, large-scale processing of lower-grade sulphide ores uses a significant amount of electricity and that the close proximity to hydroelectricity infrastructure will be advantageous.
In terms of processing, Canada Nickel will explore the potential for producing nickel and cobalt products from existing pyrometallurgical processes such as roasting, sulphation roasting and reduction using electric arc furnaces that are fuelled by natural gas.
The miner aims to capture offgases and re-route them to enable the CO2 to be captured by the waste rock and tailings from the Crawford nickel/cobalt sulphide project.
The company will also look at existing hydrometallurgical processes to produce nickel and cobalt products such as the Albion or other similar processes.