Innovation That Matters

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Metal extraction goes green with renewable energy


One company uses a novel process to retrieve pure metals without emitting CO2

Spotted: For every tonne of iron ore that’s mined and processed, around 11.9 kilogrammes of CO2-equivalent emissions are generated. With the global production of iron ore in 2021 exceeding 2.5 million tonnes, those emissions add up, and it’s clear to see why many organisations are looking to make metal extraction more sustainable. One of those is Element Zero. 

The company has devised a novel, zero-carbon method for the processing of iron ore into a pure metal that uses 30-40 per cent less energy than existing methods. The technique leverages an electrochemical reaction that takes place in an alkaline solution to produce a variety of pure materials like iron, nickel, titanium, tin, and silicon. Unlike other low-carbon processes, Element Zero’s method allows even low-grade ores to be processed. 

Crucially, the process takes place at a manageable low temperature, which means the facility can be run using intermittent renewables like hydro, wind, and solar power rather than the dominant coal-burning plants that are currently the norm. 

Element Zero’s prototype is capable of producing 100 kilogrammes of pure, zero-carbon iron a day. Last month, the company announced a $10 million (around €9.3 million) funding round, which will help it to scale the development of a pilot plant. Once the plant is operational, which will hopefully be in the second half of this year, it will be able to process one tonne of pure iron a day.  

As green technologies expand, demand for essential metals also grows. Springwise has also spotted the use of AI to find crucial minerals, as well as this zero-waste approach to getting vital metals for electronics.  

Written By: Archie Cox




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