6 February 2024

World-first project in Australia to turn air into rocks

Canadian climate tech company Arca is undertaking a world-first project in Australia to capture and transform atmospheric carbon dioxide into rock at an active mine.

Arca is piloting its carbon mineralisation technology at BHP’s Mount Keith Nickel West Mine in Western Australia. The site’s mine tailings have large amounts of ultramafic rock containing magnesium. This mineral reacts naturally with carbon dioxide in the air to form solid crystals. The process, called carbon mineralisation, is a natural and permanent way to remove excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and tackle climate change. Arca’s proprietary technology accelerates this natural carbon capture and storage process.

Western Australia’s combination of geology and topography provided the ideal environment for Arca to pilot its technology. The company plans to work with another three Australian mining companies on similar pilot projects.

Capturing and storing carbon dioxide in rocks

Vancouver-based Arca is the brainchild of Greg Dipple, a Professor of Geology at the University of British Columbia (UBC). His 20-year research into carbon mineralisation led him to co-found Arca with colleagues from UBC in 2021. Today, he is Arca’s Chief Scientist.

Dipple discovered that mine tailings – the materials left over from mining – containing ultramafic rock were sequestering tens of thousands of tons of carbon dioxide a year. This insight and subsequent research led to the development of Arca’s carbon mineralisation methodology.

One of Arca’s patent-pending technologies uses high-intensity bursts of energy to disrupt the mineral lattice structure of magnesium-rich rocks. This speeds up the rate of carbon mineralisation and the capacity to capture and store carbon dioxide.

‘Everybody knows we need to reduce emissions as soon as possible,’ says Sean Lowrie, Arca’s Head of External Affairs. ‘But to avoid the catastrophic effects of climate change, we also need to remove all the pollution we’ve put into the atmosphere since the onset of the Industrial Age. The amount of greenhouse gas that needs to be removed is between 6 and 16 billion tonnes per year by 2050, according to the UN’s IPCC.

‘Carbon mineralisation using industrial waste from mining is one of those removal pathways. Our carbon mineralisation technology has great potential to help miners transform their mine waste into a carbon capture and storage solution – and contribute to emission removal.’

For its innovative work, Arca has received a US$1 million XPRIZE Milestone Award for Carbon Removal, a Foresight50 Award as one of Canada’s most investable cleantech ventures, and an SDTC Seed Fund grant. Canada’s National Research Council also supports Arca.

Four mine technicians standing in a group with high visibility vests


Western Australia’s ideal geology and topography

In 2023, the B.C. Centre for Innovation and Clean Energy awarded Arca a CDN$1.25 million grant to test its technology. Dipple had done his initial research with BHP and reached out to ask if the mining giant was interested in testing and verifying Arca’s methodology, and demonstrate that its technologies can integrate successfully at an operating mine site.

The 18-month project kicked off in November 2023. According to Lowrie, the Mount Keith Nickel West Mine offered the ideal geology and topography.

‘Arca’s work with mining companies begins with analysing samples from mine tailings to determine if the geology is suitable for our system,’ says Lowrie. ‘BHP’s nickel mine is one of the largest in the world and there were large amounts of ultramafic rock in the tailings.

‘The other interesting thing about Western Australia is that mine tailings are typically spread over a wide area,’ he adds. ‘This places more of the ultramafic rock in contact with the air, which provides the opportunity to capture a large amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide. In other places, tailings can be stored in ways that are less exposed to the air.’

Most West Australian mines feature similar geology and topography as the Mount Keith Nickel West Mine. This has led Arca to sign memoranda of understanding with three more Australian mines to pilot its technology. They are IGO, Poseidon Nickel and Nickel Search.

‘There’s a lot of similarities between Canada and Australia,’ says Lowrie. ‘It feels natural for a Canadian company to be working in Australia. One of the things we want to bring to Australia is a real consciousness about working with First Nations communities. It’s embedded in our way of working in Canada and we want to continue this in Australia.’

Austrade assistance with visas and introductions

Austrade reached out to Arca at a trade show in Canada to offer assistance. The agency has since helped Arca to secure talent visas for its team of scientists, and made introductions to the Western Australian Government, customs brokers and tax partners. Austrade has also supplied information about working in Australia and incentives such as the R&D Tax Incentive.

‘It was a delightful surprise to learn that Austrade existed and that you were set up to help companies like ours to get started in Australia,’ says Lowrie.

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