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Cornell University experts partner for greener mining of critical minerals

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To boost the domestic manufacture of solar panels, electric vehicles, wind turbines and electricity networks, the U.S. will need a steady supply of critical minerals – such as copper, cobalt, nickel, lithium and platinum – that can be mined here.

Greeshma Gadikota, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, and the Croll Sesquicentennial Fellow, will partner with Stillwater Critical Minerals to develop environmentally rigorous techniques to help the company extract elements.

The partnership was announced at the initial meeting in February for the Mining Innovations for Negative Emissions Resources (MINER) program, which is part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy group.

“Energy critical metals are important for sustainability,” Gadikota said. “In the U.S., a large fraction of the important energy-critical metals that we use come from other countries. We need to make the U.S. self-sufficient to source these metals – as well as build an entire, sustainable supply chain around metals recovery.”

Gadikota will help Stillwater Critical Minerals, a company based in Vancouver, British Columbia, develop environmentally friendly hydrometallurgy and carbon sequestration plans for its Stillwater West Ni-PGE-Cu-Co + Au project in the Stillwater mining district of Montana. To date the company has demonstrated the project contains 1.6 billion pounds of nickel, copper and cobalt, and well over 200 million pounds of palladium, platinum, rhodium and gold.

This environmental effort is driven partially by the Inflation Reduction Act, signed into law last August, which explicitly promotes the domestic production of critical minerals to ensure national security, an improved economy and a lower use of carbon-based energy.

Mining is an energy intensive business that produces carbon dioxide. The partnership between Gadikota and Stillwater is a first step toward more sustainable practices, said Michael Rowley, president and CEO, Stillwater Critical Minerals.

“Located in an active and expanding U.S. mining district – with a long history of critical minerals production and demonstrated world-class scale and grade – Stillwater West is on a very short list of assets with the potential to play a significant role in realizing the goals set out in the bipartisan Inflation Reduction Act, and other ongoing initiatives,” Rowley said.

The industry processes a copious amount of rock, which has a lot of calcium and magnesium – and Gadikota’s proprietary technology could be ideal for capturing carbon dioxide.

“Decarbonizing the mining industry is going to be really important,” said Gadikota, who is a faculty fellow at the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability. “It’s an opportunity and a challenge at the same time. Our technology can help with removing carbon from the atmosphere and mineralizing that calcium and magnesium. This opens new possibilities for carbon removal and metal recovery.”