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Water Today Title April 21, 2024

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Update 2023/8/29
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CO2 That Rocks
BC start-up Arca removes CO2 from mine tailings, transforms it into rocks to safely store it for millennia

By Suzanne Forcese

“In Latin, Arca is a chest, a treasure chest, a safe place to store valuables. Our company captures and safely stores CO2. Our mission is to help stop and reverse climate change by capturing gigatonnes of CO2 and returning it to the ground.”-- Professor Greg Dipple, Co- Founder of UBC spin-off Arca/p>

Members of the Arca team work with the scientific instrumentation they use to measure carbon dioxide mineralization in mine tailings. Arca’s permanent, dense form of carbon storage ends up under the landscape upon mine closure. - Photo on Taku River Tlingit First Nation Traditional Territory

Interview with Sean Lowrie, External Affairs, Arca

WT: Please introduce yourself to our viewers.

Lowrie: Arca is a start-up within an industry that is starting up. My job as Head of External Affairs is connecting Arca to that emerging industry through government and community relations, fundraising, industry associations, policy and communications.

My education was in applied science (mechanical engineering) and social science. After 30 years working in international humanitarian aid—most recently as the creator and CEO of a global network of charities, my wife and I decided to move from London UK to Vancouver. To pay it forward to the community we were about to join, I began volunteer mentoring at the UBC entrepreneurship program. There, I met the Arca team, and was inspired by their potential to address climate change.

WT: Our viewers are always interested in start-ups that address climate change. How would you describe Arca?

Lowrie: Arca is a leader in carbon mineralization. Our company captures gigatons of CO2 and safely storing it in the ground.

We work with companies that are mining the essential critical metals for the clean energy transition. Our technology helps them transform their mining waste into a massive carbon sink.

WT: This raises a paradox. Decarbonizing our energy systems means more mining. The clean energy transition will require up to 20 times more critical metals by 2040. Mining is carbon intensive. Can you explain how this transformation works to create a carbon sink.

Lowrie: The technology accelerates a natural geochemical process called carbon mineralization, the transformation of atmospheric CO2 into stable carbonate materials.

Carbon mineralization in ultramafic rocks represents a multi-gigatonne opportunity for large scale permanent carbon dioxide removal.

We work with rocks that are naturally reactive. They are not reactive in the ground but become reactive when they are mined and end up as mine waste.

Our process captures carbon dioxide directly from the air above the mine and stores it in mineral form where it is stable over geologic time.

WT: In 2022 Arca won $1M in the US XPRIZE – a prize that that recognizes breakthroughs which benefit humanity. Foresight Canada has also recognized Arca. What has this meant for Arca? Please describe how the Arca technology works.

Lowrie: These recognitions have helped us to advance our R&D. The attention has opened new doors to partnerships as well.

Our team discovered that certain types of mine tailings – a specific waste rock from the mining of nickel, diamonds and other critical minerals hosted in ultramafic rock – can remove carbon from the atmosphere far more quickly than previously thought. Ultramafic rock can also store gigatonnes of CO2.

Our co-founder, Professor Greg Dipple, understood that ultramafic rocks, rich in magnesium, naturally react with CO2 to form magnesium carbonates. Over millennia, these ultramafic rocks have played a critical role in regulating CO2 levels in the atmosphere by naturally capturing CO2 and mineralizing it into magnesium carbonate minerals. 

The challenge however was that the process is too slow to significantly impact our current climate challenges.

Nickel, and other critical minerals such as lithium, copper, cobalt, and aluminum are often hosted in ultramafic rock, which is brought to the surface, crushed, and processed to extract the nickel that is used in the electric vehicle battery industry.

The remaining waste rock, called mine tailings, is disposed of in piles on the surface.

Following two decades of research, we invented proprietary technology that greatly accelerates the natural process of atmospheric carbon mineralization with these ultramafic mine tailings, removing carbon dioxide from the air and storing it permanently as rock.

WT: Describe the mining companies you collaborate with.

Lowrie: We work in partnership with mining companies to remove the hardest-to-abate emissions and completely decarbonize their own operations. Carbon negativity will be the differentiator in a competitive market for critical metals and sustainability goals.

For example, Tesla has signed long-term nickel supply agreements with a handful of mining companies, promising to purchase massive quantities of nickel for their batteries – on the condition that the nickel is produced in a sustainable way. Arca can maximize the carbon mineralization potential of their mine tailings.

Looking ahead, global demand for battery metals will expand significantly. We can assist companies with potential mines by exploring their potential for carbon mineralization, designing their mining system to take mineralization into consideration.

WT: What stage of commercialization is Arca currently at?

Lowrie: Arca works with legacy mines, junior (under development) mining companies as well as existing mine operations of any size in key mining jurisdictions of Canada, Australia, the USA, and Southeast Asia.

We recently announced that we are currently working with mining companies such as Vale, and the Australian-based juniors Poseidon Nickel, NickelSearch, and Blackstone Minerals. We are also working with Talon Metals, which in a joint venture with Rio Tinto, is developing the USAs only high-grade nickel resource for the domestic battery supply chain.

Arca also produces and sells carbon dioxide removal services to climate leaders such as Shopify, Alphabet, Meta, McKinsey and others. We are also supported by Canada’s National Research Council.

WT: And is the research still ongoing?

Lowrie: We are expanding our team and building a world-leading laboratory where we will conduct further research on mineralization in mine tailings. The building is in the Mt Pleasant area of Vancouver.

It is exciting to see the research happening, and deeply reassuring to see the talent that is attracted to addressing climate change.

WT: Moving forward, what is Arca’s vision?

Lowrie: In 5 years we will have developed our two main technologies and deployed them in several different mine operations around the world.

That means we will be pulling thousands of tons of carbon dioxide out of the air each year.


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