EcoMag is buoyed by the Federal Government’s revamped Critical Minerals Strategy released Tuesday. The long-awaited white paper unveiled by Resources and Northern Australia Minister Madeleine King champions bold projects embarking on downstream processing beyond ore beneficiation. The focus is on minerals that help deliver key technologies enabling the energy transition spanning end-uses in photovoltaics, energy storage, electrolysers and permanent magnets.
The announcement included a $500 million boost in Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility funding that is earmarked specifically for critical minerals projects, following a $2 billion Critical Minerals Facility administered to Export Finance Australia. Another $2 billion in funding for NAIF is being presented to parliament this week.
The announcement follows news that EcoMag successfully passed NAIF’s strategic investment process to fund a significant portion of EcoMag’s Karratha project. The Federal Government’s financier will make a final investment decision following satisfactory due diligence and further approval by the NAIF Board.
The Critical Minerals Strategy underlined the potential for Australia to emerge as a world leader in ESG performance. This is already underway, exemplified through a certification and life cycle analysis for Australian Battery Materials and a Battery Material Provenance Authentication pilot presented by the Future Battery Industries CRC. EcoMag is well positioned to capitalise on a shift towards transparent supply chain traceability and has recently undertaken an LCA of its magnesium recovery process following ISO 14040/14044. The LCA was developed in partnership with German Aerospace Center (DLR) and is currently undergoing an audit process with TÜV SÜD. This follows a 2018 LCA study that indicated EcoMag’s approach embodied the lowest carbon footprint of its key competitors in the high-purity synthetic magnesium oxide (and hydroxide) market.
Figure 1. EcoMag’s process produces 30-50% lower carbon emissions than its competitors. German Aerospace Center e.V. Institute of Vehicle Concepts – Stuttgart, Germany.
The report emphasised the opportunity for Australia to harness the full potential life cycle value of its mineral resources. The announcement coincides with Geoscience Australia’s Atlas of Mine Waste, highlighting opportunities to reprocess previously mined material to extract critical minerals. In 2022, Australia’s environment ministers agreed to work with the private sector to design out waste and pollution, keep materials in use, and foster markets to achieve a circular economy by 2030. Led by Australia’s Chief Scientist, the National Science and Technology Council is assessing opportunities to leverage a circular economy approach to maximise the value and trade opportunities of critical minerals, including through recovery, reprocessing and recycling in Australia.
Rather than mining magnesium-rich ores, EcoMag’s technology embodies a circular economy framework by extracting magnesium from an existing mineral tailings stream (known as bitterns) from solar salt production. EcoMag reduces the total salinity of the bitterns it processes to a comparable level found in seawater. Magnesium is the third most abundant element dissolved in seawater. As such, the supply of magnesium from seawater is essentially inexhaustible.
Figure 2 EcoMag’s process reduces the total salinity of an existing waste stream, with the sole by-product more closely resembling the composition of seawater.
EcoMag’s high-purity magnesium oxide was recently validated as a fit-for-purpose feedstock by RedoxBlox, Inc. The San Diego-based company recently completed a US$20 million Series A funding round from high-profile energy market investors and energy transition-focused venture capital funds to scale their zero-carbon thermochemical energy storage systems. RedoxBlox’s patented technology uses magnesium and manganese-based pellets to facilitate the electrification of high-temperature industrial processes. A unique feature of RedoxBlox’s technology is that the thermochemical energy storage module allows natural gas power plant operators to convert existing or new gas turbines into a renewable energy storage system.
Figure 3 RedoxBlox’s energy storage technology for the grid and industrial heat applications.
This follows an announced Heads of Agreement between RedoxBlox and an Australian manganese company, Accelerate Resources Limited (ASX: AX8) in early 2023. By sourcing both its magnesium and manganese in the Pilbara, the hope is to lure RedoxBlox into establishing its downstream pellet processing facility in Australia. This would strategically position RedoxBlox adjacent to some of Australia’s largest industrial energy consumers, including remote mining operations currently reliant on high-cost diesel and natural gas.
The global market opportunity for energy storage in 2021 was estimated at 10 GW, with the market forecast to grow rapidly to 58 GW by 2030, according to projections published by BloombergNEF. EcoMag believes its high-grade, low-carbon magnesium oxide has a role to play in meeting the world’s future energy storage needs.