Researchers Develop New Mining Technology to Slow Water Evaporation, Generate Energy
Mining companies looking for solutions to water evaporation look no further. The University of Arizona has developed new technology to manage the evaporation of water from mining tailings ponds and reservoirs, while simultaneously generating energy reserves through solar panels.
The breakthrough technology, which is being called Hexocover, consists of floating hexagonal plastic panels that are arranged to fit individual water surface dimensions, forming a cover over the water to slow the evaporation process. In addition, it can also be fitted with solar cells to generate electricity in the process.
“Mining activity typically requires a lot of energy,” said Ardeth Barnhart, University of Arizona Renewable Energy Network Director. “This technology is a great example of how original ideas that develop the use of solar energy to transform industrial processes can have immediate and transformative effects on water and energy use, create positive environmental impact, and provide direct benefits to our economy.”
The panels are fitted with a propulsion system and GPS to allow remote configuration as well as accessibility for the cover to move when water reserves are re-filled.
The unique technology has been invented by Moe Momayez in the Department of Mining and Geological Engineering at the University of Arizona and Nathan Barba, managing partner at RePower Design.
"We needed a way to prevent the evaporation of (tailing pond) water, but we needed a system that could move out of the way when the tailings are being released into the ponds," Barba said. "If we can cover them, we can help with the devastating water shortage problem here in the southwestern U.S. and around the world."
The company also worked with Tech Launch Arizona, the unit of the UA that commercializes inventions from the University research to execute an exclusive license to bring the invention to the market.
"Water conservation is a societal imperative, not just in the Southwest, but around the globe," says Doug Hockstad, director of technology transfer at Tech Launch Arizona. "Technologies like this will help save water, especially in arid environments. Since the University of Arizona has such a strong research history in this area, it's exciting to see that research having a social and economic impact."
The new technology will offer a combination of positive environmental impact by minimizing water evaporation, which is costly for mining companies to replace, as well as generating electricity.
"I’m most excited about the possibilities of fixing a big problem," Barba says. "It’s been interesting to have this original challenge, and then see it develop and get refined and perfected, and now to see it working."
Rio Tinto and Alcoa begin construction with ELYSIS tech
Eliminating all direct greenhouse gases from aluminium smelting has taken a major step forward with the start of construction on the first commercial-scale prototype cells of ELYSIS’ inert anode technology, at Rio Tinto’s Alma smelter in Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, Quebec.
ELYSIS has the potential to reduce the carbon footprint of aluminium production
ELYSIS is a joint venture company led by Rio Tinto and Alcoa that is developing a new breakthrough technology, known as inert anode, that eliminates all direct greenhouse gases (GHGs) from the traditional smelting process and instead produces oxygen.
The technology has the potential to transform the aluminium industry, with a significant reduction in its carbon footprint.
The inert anode prototype cells will operate on a commercial scale typical for large modern aluminium smelters, using an electrical current of 450 kiloamperes (kA).
The Honourable Francois-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry joined representatives from ELYSIS, Rio Tinto and Alcoa to mark the start of construction and announce a further CAD $20mn financial contribution from the Government of Canada to support the project.
The federal government's financial support will enable the creation of a unique commercial size inert anode technology showroom for future customers and will help develop the supply chain by involving local and regional equipment manufacturers and suppliers in the project.
ELYSIS is working to complete the technology demonstration by 2024 followed by the commercialization activities.
ELYSIS technology at a glance:
- The ELYSIS technology addresses the global trend towards producing low carbon footprint products, from mobile phones to cars, planes and building materials.
- The new process will reduce operating costs ofaluminiumsmelters while increasing production capacity. It could be used in both new and existing aluminium smelters.
- In Canada alone, the ELYSIS technology has the potential to reduce GHG emissions by 7 million tons, the equivalent of removing 1.8 million cars from the roads.
- ELYSIS will also sell next-generation anode and cathode materials, which will last more than 30 times longer than traditional components.
Alcoa and Rio Tinto will continue to support the ELYSIS development program alongside the Governments of Canada and Quebec.
ELYSIS is working closely with Alcoa's Technical Center, where the zero-carbon smelting technology was invented, and the Rio Tinto technology design team in France.
Alcoa's Technical Center supports ELYSIS in the manufacture of proprietary materials for the new anodes and cathodes that are essential to the ELYSIS process. The Rio Tinto technology team in France is creating commercial scale designs for the ELYSIS technology.
Vincent Christ, CEO, ELYSIS commented: “This is a great day for ELYSIS. It means that we are becoming the first technology company in the world to build commercial-size inert anode cells. While we refine the technology in our R&D Centre, we start the construction of our prototype cells. This shows our confidence in our process and in the know-how of our team. The combination of ELYSIS' zero CO2 technology and Quebec's renewable energy will be great competitive advantage for the future. I would like to thank the government for its support and all the partners for their commitment.”
Samir Cairae, Rio Tinto Aluminium managing director Atlantic Operations and ELYSIS board member added: “Today marks a real step towards the future of the aluminium industry, by progressing this breakthrough technology to cut carbon emissions. Rio Tinto is committed to supporting its ongoing development here in Quebec where we already use clean hydropower to deliver some of the world’s lowest carbon aluminium. Combining this technology with renewable hydropower holds the promise of zero carbon aluminium smelting.”