Lessons from Nature: Mimicking Photosynthesis to Capture and Transform Carbon Dioxide into Renewable Fuels

Despite the expanding transition to renewable energy sources, the atmospheric level of carbon dioxide (CO2) is projected to continue to rise for decades to come.  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) acknowledge that large-scale technologies capable of removing CO2 from the air are critical to achieving a climate outcome aligned with the Paris Agreement.  So-called negative emission technologies (NETs) are vital for reaching net zero emissions by 2050, even in scenarios where the rapid deployment of renewable energy is realised. 

Tree cycle capturing Carbon DioxideEcomag MOF technology replicating trees

Once captured, the question remains of what to do with all the carbon?  One approach is to sequester CO2 underground in geologically stable reservoirs.  A complementary strategy is to take a cue from nature and transform the captured CO2 into something society can reuse.  The idea of closing the carbon loop mimics the way plants undergo photosynthesis.  When combined with renewable hydrogen, CO2 can be converted into an array of important chemical feedstocks currently derived from fossil fuels. 

The challenge is that carbon dioxide is a very stable molecule.  Therefore, a catalyst is required to effectively reduce the amount of energy required to transform the CO2 into something more useful. 

EcoMag is working with UNSW’s Particle and Catalysis Research Group led by Prof Rose Amal and the CSIRO to develop Magnesium-based materials that can bridge the gap between carbon capture and utilisation.  The class of porous materials being targeted are known as metal-organic frameworks.  MOFs are materials made up of metal ion ‘hubs’, linked together with organic ‘struts’ to make structures of ultrahigh porosity.  About a teaspoon of these remarkable crystals possess the same surface area as an entire football field.  With all this room inside, MOFs can be put to work as tiny sponges. 

Excitingly, Magnesium-based MOFs are particularly good at capturing carbon dioxide.  By doping these structures with active nanoparticles, we have shown that we can convert the captured CO2 into renewable fuels.  The idea is that these two components can work in unison.  The magnesium-based MOF can soak up the CO2 while the doped nanoparticles are able to facilitate the transformation. 

The collaborative effort is currently screening a variety of Magnesium-based MOFs to uncover the most commercially viable option.  EcoMag’s array of high purity magnesium products are a perfect platform for formulating these revolutionary structures.  By tuning the organic component used in material construction, it is possible to tune the pore size and chemistry of the resulting MOF, opening the door to a broad range of applications including air filtration, chemical sensing and drug delivery.  Feel free to share a link to our latest publication in Advanced Functional Materials:

https://doi.org/10.1002/adfm.202007624

ECOMAG’S SUSTAINABLE MAGNESIUM RECOVERY

EcoMag (www.ecomagnesium.com) is recovering  magnesium (Mg) as >99% pure hydrated magnesium carbonate (HMC) from waste bitterns and brines produced from solar salt fields or potash mines. These wastes are currently discharged to sea causing damages to marine life or stored as tailing at the mine sites.

HMC can then be further processed to Mg oxide/hydroxide and several high purity pharmaceutical and food grade organic salts (citrate, glycinate, etc.) used in Mg supplements, foods and drinks.

As the Mg feed to the EcoMag process is a waste, it brings zero CO2 input to the final products. As a result, EcoMag products have lower CO2 footprint compared to those produced from conventional technologies as confirmed in an independent study conducted by the German Aerospace Centre.

Mg recovery from mining magnesite ores or subterranean brine wells poses potential damages to the environment. Ground disturbance of open cut magnesite mine site requires extensive rehabilitation to return the site to its original state. Recovering Mg brines from subterranean wells potentially causes mine subsidence as experienced by Nedmag and similar operations in the Netherlands. Earthquakes and brine leaks to groundwater apart form mine subsidence have been of great concern as experienced by Nedmag  leading to strict government scrutiny of these operations (https://www.dutchnews.nl/news/2018/09/earthquakes-leaks-salt-mining-under-scrutiny-as-problems-mount/).

EcoMag potentially is the first and only producer of high purity Mg specialty chemicals in Australia employing a sustainable and environmentally friendly process for production. EcoMag’s future operation in the Pilbara is also of significance to the development of regional Australia.

EcoMag is a proud supporter of the circular Economy

EcoMag working with Future Food Systems @ UNSW to tap into Organic High Purity Magnesium Compounds

Since 2016, specialty chemical producer EcoMag Limited has been extracting magnesium salts from the waste streams of Pilbara sea-salt mining operations and turning it into high-purity magnesium compounds for a multitude of uses, including foods and supplements.

Now, the company, which joined the CRC in December 2020, is drawing on the expertise of leading chemical engineers at UNSW Sydney to help it streamline its operations, scale up to commercial-level production, and – if all goes well – capture lucrative opportunities in the high-value ‘base ingredients’ space.

EcoMag seeks $1.5b opportunity in global market for high-purity Mg salts – Future Food Systems

MAKING A DIFFERENCE WITH UNSW & CSIRO

Ongoing investment in specialty chemical product development is a key strategy for EcoMag to drive growth through an expanding product portfolio based on value differentiation. Find out about EcoMag’s collaboration with two of Australia’s leading research institution in this brief video.

INDUSTRIAL SYMBIOSIS – ECOMAG TEAMS UP WITH KALIUM

EcoMag has teamed up with ASX listed Kalium Lakes Ltd (ASX:KLL) to sustainably extract magnesium from the brines left over after the potash has been harvested at the Beyondie Sulphate of Potash Project (BSOPP).

EcoMag’s General Manager Shaun Triner and Kalium Lakes’ Chief Executive Officer Brett Hazelden sign a Term Sheet proposing a joint venture to produce magnesium at Beyondie.

The joint venture plans to extract high purity hydrated magnesium carbonate as a precursor compound to producing magnesium oxides and hydroxides. The agreement follows successful pilot scale trials by EcoMag of the residual brines from the BSOPP’s pilot evaporation ponds during 2018 and 2019. The trials confirmed a high magnesium content (up to 9%) in Kalium’s waste feed brine and we produced 99.5% pure hydrated magnesium carbonate (HMC) with an overall recovery rate in excess of 95%.

EcoMag Chief Executive Officer Tony Crimmins said. “We plan to recycle the waste brines from the potash plant to produce a material that is then sold for use in cleaning up the environment, both air and water, and in more environmentally friendly products.”

For more information, please refer to the joint ASX announcement.

 

 

ANALYST COVERAGE

Pitt Street Research (www.pittstreetresearch.com) – an independent analyst providing issuer sponsored coverage for small to mid cap ASX companies in the Technology and Life Science sectors – have completed an analysis of EcoMag.

In “Specialty chemicals upside – Attractive play on magnesium purity”, they provide a comprehensive overview of the project, drawing attention to particular items of merit:

  1. An inexhaustible resource with zero exploration risk and a positive environmental outcome.
  2. Massive scope for expansion at the initial site.
  3. Good access to critical infrastructure.
  4. Vertical expansion opportunities into multiple downstream products.
  5. A wide market across diverse industries.
  6. Successful pilot plant operation, buyer product testing and off-take agreements.
  7. Primary approval (mining tenure) in place.
  8. Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility funding in due diligence.
  9. A DCF valuation of ~A$347.6m based solely on the initial plant (excluding horizontal and vertical expansion opportunities).

Based on their DCF valuation, Pitt Street Research estimate a value in excess of $3 per share.

Download Pitt Street Research’s full report here.

A NET PUBLIC BENEFIT OF +$149 MILLION

Deloitte Access Economics has undertaken an economic analysis of EcoMag’s proposed magnesium recovery plant in Karratha, Western Australia, estimating that the project would create direct benefits for the Australian public over the first 20 years of operation valued at over $149 million. These are driven primarily by company taxes for the Commonwealth, and payroll taxes and royalties for Western Australia, in addition to infrastructure improvements for the Pilbara and environmental benefits.

The initial plant is designed to produce around 80,000t of hydrated magnesium carbonate annually, mostly for export, worth around $130 million a year at current prices. It would also generate over 100 jobs in construction, and require a substantial locally resident operational workforce.

EcoMag’s hydrometallurgy process is capable of recovering magnesium from a range of sources, but it is ideally suited to precipitating magnesium carbonate from hypersaline brines, a by-product of sea-salt production which, for decades, has been discarded and discharged into the ocean.

This gives EcoMag management and shareholders an opportunity to grow an environmentally and socially conscious business from the ground up, which is easier to achieve than trying to retrofit social ethics to a massive, long established corporate entity.

These sorts of opportunities have traditionally been rare but the world is changing. Environmental and social concerns are fast becoming a dominant driver of consumer and investor choices. It’s one of the emerging mega-trends of our times. Investors are no longer satisfied with the old two-dimensional focus on risk and return. Increasingly they are demanding that business leaders broaden their focus to the third dimension: impact – social and environmental.

View the full media release here.

HELPING UNITE AUSTRALIA WITH RESPECT – AND WITH ACTION

As a young business committed to the highest standards of environmental and social corporate citizenship, EcoMag is proud to formally launch its Reconciliation Action Plan during National Reconciliation Week.

EcoMag wishes to acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of this nation, and to pay respect to past, present and future Elders, and to the cultural, spiritual and educational practices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

“When we started thinking about Indigenous engagement, we sat around trying to think up ways in which we might contribute to local communities,” EcoMag Chief Executive Officer, Tony Crimmins said. “It wasn’t until we started talking to people outside the organisation that we realised we were making an all too common mistake. We were trying to guess what would be good for local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples rather than asking them.”

EcoMag searched for an appropriate framework for its Indigenous engagement, seeking a practical roadmap for action. Subsequent research took them to Reconciliation Australia, and to the concept of an action plan.

“We realised we were just at the start of a journey and that we needed guidance to take the first step in the right direction,” Mr Crimmins said. “We also knew that acknowledgement and respect were fine sentiments but essentially empty unless we also took action.” 

EcoMag’s Reconciliation Action Plan contains a sequence of achievable, measurable steps and the company commits to its engagement with Traditional Owners being guided by core principles:

Acknowledgement and respect — EcoMag’s non-Indigenous staff recognise that they cannot fully understand the experiences and perspectives of local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and undertake to engage with Traditional Owners with respect for their diversity and their history.

Relationships and engagement — EcoMag is committed to building effective social and professional relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who may be affected by the company’s operations.

Capacity building — EcoMag recognises Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ strengths and capacity to contribute, and seeks a collaborative approach to building skills and providing opportunities to support local communities.

Autonomy — EcoMag recognises the need for all people to have autonomy in their lives and undertakes to consult with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, to listen to their perspectives, and where possible to implement their preferred solutions.

“As the name suggests, our Traditional Custodians have a long history of protecting and managing the land and sea that has sustained them for tens of thousands of years,” Mr Crimmins said. “We recycle and help to rehabilitate a waste stream which flows into the ocean. I like to think that we draw inspiration from our Traditional Custodians in this regard and I’m quite sure we can learn from them. I firmly believe that if the planet is to sustain us for tens of thousands of years into the future, we need to learn these lessons. The EcoMag team is excited about starting this journey and proud to be taking the first small steps, learning and hopefully contributing over time.”

EcoMag’s Reconciliation Action Plan is a public document, lodged with Reconciliation Australia, and available here.

TURNING PILBARA WASTE-WATER INTO A NEW BILLION DOLLAR EXPORT INDUSTRY

Modelling undertaken as part of a recently completed study has confirmed the volume of bitterns available for processing is much larger than initially considered, and could potentially support vastly higher production levels.

As part of the ongoing regulatory approval process, EcoMag is providing bitterns dispersal modelling to the W.A. Department of Water and Environmental Regulation, taking into account 45 years of data for evaporation rates, rainfall patterns, tides, and extreme weather events such as the cyclones that occasionally strike the area.

“On average, we utilise only ten percent of the total waste stream,” EcoMag General Manager Shaun Triner said. “That’s not to say we could reliably expand production ten-fold because there is significant variability from year to year, but it looks like the resource could support production levels around six to eight times the initial plant.”

EcoMag Chief Executive Officer Tony Crimmins said that even at the initial proposed plant capacity, the project would add significantly to Karratha’s manufacturing output, generating around $130 million of revenue per year, almost all of it from exports.

“Karratha’s annual manufacturing output is around $740 million, so our initial plant would represent a significant boost,” he said. “But if, down the track, we were able to expand eight times, it could more than double current manufacturing output. It could potentially bring the region a billion dollars in annual revenue, not to mention raising around $25 million annually in royalties for Western Australia.

“However, it’s not all about the money. The potential social and community benefits are equally important.”

Initial plant construction is expected to generate 110 jobs and the company has a strong policy of preferring local suppliers.

“This reflects EcoMag’s commitment to the regional community,” Mr Crimmins said. “It also ensures that local expertise and specific knowledge of EcoMag’s operation is available for maintenance and expansion.”

“Any new project offers regional benefits of course,” Mr. Crimmins said. “What sets EcoMag apart is that our business is entirely outside the boom and bust cycle and the fly-in-fly-out employment practices of the resources industry that dominates the region. We would offer both permanent employment and economic diversification.”

The City of Karratha has long recognised the benefits of resource related investment but has also stressed the importance of diversifying the region’s economic base.

Specialty chemicals is a trillion dollar industry worldwide, but there are very few specialty chemicals businesses in Australia. EcoMag’s magnesium recycling plant utilises a proprietary process developed in South Korea to produce magnesium carbonate at extremely high purity levels.

“That’s important in two ways,” Mr Crimmins said. “Firstly, in speciality chemicals markets, price is driven by purity, and we produce the highest levels available. Secondly, our product is unusually flexible. The more you understand international magnesium markets the more astonishing you realise this metal is. Most people know that it goes into human health supplements but they don’t realise it’s used in plastics and rubber, steelmaking, fertilisers, toughened glass, water treatment, and a wide variety of foods and beverages, just to name a few applications.

“Critically, magnesium buyers don’t just want magnesium. They look for a particular compound of magnesium with minimal impurities and specific particle sizes, surface areas, etcetera. Most producers find it very difficult to meet these requirements but we’ve been providing samples to distributors for a year now, verifying that we can meet their stringent requirements with relative ease. This is partly because of the nature of our process and partly because our Chief Technology Officer, Professor Tam Tran is a world leader in hydrometallurgy.”

“That’s why we see such scope for expansion,” Mr Crimmins said. “It’s why we’re see EcoMag as conceivably a billion dollar business in the making with the potential to drive a specialty chemicals renaissance in Australia.”

LAUNCH OF ECOMAG DIRECT SPECIALTY CHEMICALS

EcoMag is delighted to announce the launch of EcoMag Direct Specialty Chemicals.

Academic and commercial research labs, industrial engineers, scientists and innovators can now order EcoMag specialty magnesium chemicals online for delivery Australia wide.

Initially EcoMag Direct sells Hydrated Magnesium Carbonate, Caustic Calcined Magnesia, Hard Burned Magnesia, and Magnesium Citrate, and in the not too distant future, we plan to add Dehydrated HydroMagnesite, Magnesium DiHydroxide, HydroTalcite, Magnesium Hydrogen Phosphate and more. Subject to regulatory approvals we’ll also extend our sales to labs overseas.

All products are laboratory reagent quality and over time we plan to become a first choice supplier of best-in-class magnesium materials to the science and research community world-wide.

For more information, visit ecomagdirect.com.

%%footer%%