The US Department of Energy (DOE) announced up to $44 million in funding (DE-FOA-0002707) to support projects developing commercial-ready technologies that give the United States a net-zero or net negative emissions pathway toward increased domestic supplies of critical elements required for the transition to clean energy.
The program—Mining Innovations for Negative Emissions Resource Recovery (MINER)—is administered by DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) and aims to develop commercially scalable technologies that would enable greater domestic supplies of copper, nickel, lithium, cobalt, rare earth elements, and other critical elements.
The lack of a secure domestic supply of these minerals poses a significant supply chain risk for the United States, especially with regard to batteries, renewable generation, and transmission. Specifically, ARPA-E seeks to support the development of technologies to:
Decrease mineral comminution energy and reduce unrecovered energy-relevant minerals in the tailings by 50% during mineral beneficiation by modifying mineral properties of CO2-reactive ore. Comminution is the mineral grinding phase during mineral beneficiation; the mining industry’s mineral beneficiation process of extracting and processing ore is one of the most energy-intensive industrial sectors.
Comminution energy possesses an inverse relationship with ore grade. For example, copper ore grades have decreased by 25% in the past decade and the energy required to process this ore has increased by 46%. In quantifiable terms, copper ore grades of 0.20% require 10 MJ/kg of ore in comparison to 80 MJ/kg for 0.05% copper ore grades. Concomitant with this decrease in ore grade is also increased waste rock (i.e., gangue minerals and overburden) to achieve the same unit of produced metal. With exploration requiring decades to discover and develop world-class deposits and decreasing ore grades over time, mining companies have turned to remining tailings and mineral sludge. However, remining tailings and mineral sludge do es not provide a long-term solution to decrease comminution energy and extract the energy -relevant minerals within the gigatons of gangue minerals and tailings produced during mining.
Embodied energy in mineral processing increases as ore grades decrease. Source: MINER FOA
Grades of copper, gold, zinc, and nickel ore mined are decreasing over time. Source: MINER FOA
Increase energy-relevant mineral yield by capturing energy-relevant minerals in CO2-reactive mineralogy.
Reprocess existing CO2 reactive overburden and tailings deposits for the purpose of recovering residual mineral value.
Develop carbon-negative reactions cradle-to-gate (ore-to-metal) to carbonate CO2-reactive ore.
Develop surveying technologies to advance exploration vectors of CO2-reactive rock formations, quantify reservoir carbonation, and quantify energy-relevant minerals leached and re-mineralized during carbonation of the CO2-reactive minerals.
Develop the technology to the extent of a demonstrable and justifiable path to full commercial scale-up from bench-scale demonstrations for either an in situ or ex situ approach.