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Canada Nickel plans zero-carbon N. Ontario mine cluster

IMAGE: Canada Nickel chair and CEO Mark Selby
Canada Nickel's chair and CEO Mark Selby. (Courtesy Canada Nickel Company Inc.)

Canada Nickel Company Inc. has found it can capture carbon at its Crawford, Ont. nickel sulphide project, an important step toward its goal of creating a zero-carbon industrial cluster in the Timmins–Cochrane region.

The 42-square-km Crawford project is situated on ultramafic rock, which naturally sequesters carbon dioxide (CO2). Canada Nickel’s (CNC-X) in-process tailings (IPT) carbonation process hastens that sequestration.

Testing at the Kingston Process Metallurgy Inc. facility resulted in 37 tonnes of CO2 captured per tonne of nickel – 34 tonnes of which was captured in 25 hours.

The company believes the process will allow it to produce net-zero nickel and cobalt for electric vehicles, as well as net-zero iron and chromium for the stainless steel industry.

A feasibility study for the project is expected to be completed by mid-year. Construction of the mine is planned for mid-2025, with operations set to begin by the end of 2027.

Canada Nickel’s IPT carbonation

The company was founded in September 2019 in Toronto. According to Canada Nickel chair and CEO Mark Selby, work on passive tailings has always been a part of the plan.

Passive tailings carbonation is part of the natural process of these ultramafic rocks, but Canada Nickel’s process involves injecting CO2 as the rock is going through the mill. The ultramafic rocks convert into a mineral called magnesite when exposed to CO2, thus sequestering the carbon.

This also means the company doesn’t have to create a special stream just to carbonate the rocks. Selby compared it to Carbfix’s CO2 mineral storage project in Iceland.

“We're just basically taking in a similar type of rock, grinding it up really finely and injecting the CO2 as it's going through the mill,” he said. “So that's the nice part. It's not any more complicated than that.”

Canada Nickel also plans to create carbon credits around its process. For the Crawford project, he predicts between 750,000 to one million tonnes of carbon credits.

“The nice thing with these carbon credits,” Selby explained, “is we'll measure carbon of the material as it's at Point A in the pipe, we’ll run this carbonation process, and then we'll be able to measure the carbon as it's coming out in Point B.”

A release states the Crawford nickel project has potential to become the sole large-scale carbon storage facility in Ontario and one of largest such facilities in Canada.

Canada Nickel plans to mine 120,000 tonnes of ore per day – and process 43 million tonnes of nickel and cobalt per year from 100 million tonnes of material. It also predicts mining up to one million tonnes of iron and between 30,000 to 40,000 tonnes of chromium per year.

Selby estimated construction would generate several thousand jobs, along with several hundred employees working at the mines once they are operational.

“Our market cap right now is about just under $200 million. This is a billion-dollar-plus project,” Selby said. 

Canada Nickel and Crawford

With the push for electric vehicles in full swing in North America, there are very few nickel projects of scale on the continent. Selby said for each tonne of nickel mined, the process can generate anywhere from 30 to 80 tonnes of carbon. The Crawford project is proving to be a bountiful resource for these critical minerals, and with its IPT process, a low-carbon one as well he said.

“We think there's the opportunity to look at really creating a zero-carbon industrial cluster around Timmins, because there's literally billions of tonnes of this rock that can pick up CO2,” Selby said. “We've realized that there's actually probably 10 to 15 Crawfords in and around Timmins that we were able to identify with the provincial geophysics.

“Most of Ontario's hydroelectric dams are just to the north and northwest of Timmins. And you've got an industrial infrastructure base with rail and road and so forth, that will allow you to move materials in and out of that area in a relatively low-carbon way."

He highlighted how the low-carbon approach extends to the mining equipment and process. Ontario’s largely clean grid goes a long way toward minimizing carbon in the milling process, but he also mentioned the use of electric trolleys and rope shovels.

The company is in discussions with global car companies in North America and Europe, all of whom Selby said are keen to acquire nickel from zero-carbon sources, as well as from regions other than Chinese-controlled sources in Indonesia.

The potential for mining in the Crawford region goes beyond this initial project. Along the same timeline as Canada’s 2030 to 2040 net-zero goals, Selby hopes to expand Canada Nickel’s operations in the area.

“By that timeframe given, the market's desperate for more nickel by the latter part of this decade and into the 2030s,” he said. “My hope is that we've developed out of that land package another three or four Crawfords and that those set of properties are the leading source of zero-carbon nickel for the world.”

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