Environmentally friendly way to produce potash developed
A Canadian company claims to have developed an environmentally friendlier mechanism to produce potash, without generating salt tailings and requiring no surface brine ponds.
Gensource Potash, a Saskatoon-based firm, explains that the absence of tailings eliminates decommissioning risks, while not having ponds removes the single largest negative environmental impact of conventional potash mining.
The extraction method created by Gensource injects a hot salt (NaCl) brine into caverns to selectively dissolve potash (KCl). The subsequent NaCl/KCl brine collects in the caverns, to be collected and processed. KCl drops out through cooling crystallisation and the NaCl brine is reheated and re-circulated back to the cavern to repeat the process.
Meanwhile, the collected KCl solids are de-brined and dried out, before being compacted, sized and then loaded out.
Gensource says that its process has been carried out by a series of independent production facilities that are one-tenth the size of a traditional potash project, and that they can produce between 250,000-300,000 tonnes per year of the fertiliser.
Planned to be installed at the company’s Tugaske project, which is within the Vanguard Area in south-central Saskatchewan, the modules are said to use 75 percent less water per tonne of potash than conventional solution mining methods. They can also use brackish water sources, further reducing their freshwater usage.
Furthermore, the power at Tugaske is self-generated using natural gas rather than coal, which allows it to avoid up to 24,500 tonnes per year of CO2e of emissions.
The Rural Municipality of Huron, where the Tugaske project is located, recently granted it a development approval permit. However the Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment ruled in 2018 that the project should be considered ‘not a development’ because it doesn’t trigger environmental impact assessments due to its ‘green attributes’.
Once operations begin, Gensource Potash says it is committed to selling, for at least the next 10 years, 100 percent of the annual production from the Tugaske project to Helm Fertilisers, a US-based subsidiary of Helm AG, who will market it directly to customers using its own infrastructure.
However, at present, the fertiliser company is waiting on its senior lenders, KfW and Société Général to approve financing. The firm says that it is also wating to have project financing coverage approved through Euler Hermes, it concludes.
BHP deliberates ditching fossil fuels for greener mining
The world’s biggest miner, Australian-based BHP, is supposedly considering withdrawing from a multi-billion dollar contract, which would see the company generate more than US$2bn due to mounting pressure over aligning its business with ongoing climate concerns and ESG-compliance measures.
Exiting the agreement would mean BHP escalate its distancing from oil and gas and subsequently cut down on the amount of fossil fuels used by the company when mining.
It’s estimated that the petroleum business being debated upon could actually be worth around US$15bn but is still under talks to be put up for sale.
Global Mining Giant Considers Greener Future
BHP has made itself clear that it wants to avoid becoming unable to sell its assets. As competition within the market increases following higher numbers of oil giants wrestling with investors to deal with climate pressure, so too are the number of mining rivals looking to make environmental changes for the future.
However, BHP currently has the upper hand as a stalwart mining company that established itself back in the 1960s, allowing it the time to grow and dominate over other fast-appearing mining competition.
Mike Henry, BHP Chief Executive, has an optimistic outlook for the future of oil and gas despite worries over rising demand to align his business with the Paris Climate Agreement. Henry argues that prices remain promising due to a lack of industry-wide investment.
BHP’s petroleum business won’t be easy to say goodbye to. Forecasted to generate around 6% of profits during the ongoing financial year (US$2bn), and around US$1.6bn revenue produced by BHP petroleum in the six months leading to December 2020, BHP is due to take a hit no matter what agreement they choose.
On the other hand, distancing itself from thermal coal and petroleum would arguably aid the company’s case to possible - and valuable - investors who may be required to fund BHP’s increased output to places such as Australia and Mexico in the near future.
BHP considers cutting billion-dollar contract to aid climate
An exit away from petroleum has the potential to be “a powerful corporate catalyst,” says Dominic Kane, Analyst at JP Morgan.
“We believe an exit would likely ring-fence BHP’s exceptional cash flows for non-fossil fuel organic growth, mergers and acquisitions and generous shareholder distributions since BHP could avoid a major new capital investment phase this decade in petroleum.”
BHP is also set to sanction a giant US$5.7bn Canadian potash mine in August of this year, already seeing potash as a long-term substitute for gas and oil going into the future. The company has also previously announced plans to abandon its 80% share in its joint endeavour with Mitsui, owner of two lower-quality mines in Queensland, Australia.
BHP is scheduled to report its annual results on August 17, after which it may become clearer on whether the company will choose to focus its shift to a low-carbon economy or whether it will stay with its current contract into the coming year.