Diamond mines of the future could be carbon neutral according to a researcher testing new technology at the NWT's Gahcho Kué diamond mine.
Greg Dipple will fly to the mine next week to begin trialing new carbon-capture technology.
Dipple, a geology professor at the University of British Columbia, says storing carbon in processed kimberlite – the substance which mines explore for diamonds – has already proved successful in the laboratory and, by accident, at a nickel mine in Western Australia.
Tests at Gahcho Kué will represent Dipple's first application of the technology outside the lab. The federal government is investing $2 million in the project, Ottawa announced on Tuesday.
"When you take rock and grind it up to extract mineral commodities, you make it much more reactive," Dipple said.
He described a system whereby carbon dioxide can be captured by reactive material in mine tailings, letting mines – in his words – "take carbon dioxide from the air and put it in a mineral form that's geologically stable over thousands to millions of years, and is a harmless, common mineral form."
De Beers, operator of the mine, said it sees immense potential in the technology. The mining giant said only 10 percent of the technology's capacity at Gahcho Kué would be needed to "capture the carbon dioxide emissions of a whole mine."
After the reaction is successful and the carbon is stored in the rock, the sequestered carbon would be buried in tailings storage facilities. "It would be basically captured within the landscape and would stay there with the rest of the mine waste," Dipple said.
Mining companies are engaged in a race to develop lower-carbon practices – also seen as a key obstacle to the NWT attracting more mines, given the territory's infrastructure limitations and reliance on diesel.
While the carbon offset is small compared to the billions of tonnes of global carbon dioxide emissions, it is one of the "drastic geoengineering approaches" Dipple says are needed to avoid a two-percent or greater rise in global temperatures.
He believes emissions reductions of 10 percent to 40 percent are readily achievable, depending on the mine type. The technology can be adapted for use at older mines currently in operation.
"Some mines have reactive enough material they could be greenhouse gas neutral," said Dipple.
However, not all mines are suitable. Only those mining with kimberlite – or other rock types which host elements like nickel and platinum – can use the technology.
The $2-million investment into the project comes from Natural Resource Canada's Clean Growth Program. The overall $3.5-million project cost will be part-funded by De Beers, three Canadian universities, and the Institut national de la recherche scientifique.
Łutselkʼe's emissions-free vision
At Tuesday's announcement, NWT MP Michael McLeod said several NWT communities will get money from Natural Resources Canada to implement green energy technologies.
Haroon Bhatti, innovations manager at the Denesoline Corporation, said the community of Łutselkʼe wants to generate one megawatt of electricity from a hybrid system of solar, wind, and hydroelectric.
Artificial intelligence would control which of the three systems were being used at any one time.
Engineers are surveying the land in Łutselkʼe to see where the three could be located. A $400,000 federal investment is funding completion of a related study.
Production of what Bhatti calls the "smart grid" could start as early as 2022. The one megawatt produced would be enough power to allow the community to expand.
Elsewhere, the hamlet of Aklavik receives $640,000 to install a biomass heating system in the community of just over 650 people. The community also received $200,000 to make energy-efficiency upgrades.
The Rat River Development Corporation in Fort McPherson is considering adding a biomass boiler to the community's heating system. The Beaufort Delta community received $229,000 to conduct a feasibility study.
A $380,000 investment will pay for workshops to improve energy literacy at the Centre for Indigenous Environmental Research. The regional workshops will be geared toward youth and women.