A long, slow, boring, and expensive process is under way to mine aluminium ore in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
The US Bureau of Land Management (BLM) says it will start processing the ore by hand in September, while Canadian mining giant Barrick has been developing the technology for some time.
Aluminum ore is used to make up about one-fifth of the world’s metal supply.
But it’s hard to get the ore to market, and it can be extremely costly to extract.
Aluminium is also one of the most difficult metals to process, requiring sophisticated equipment and extensive testing.
The prospect of a new, much cheaper, method of extracting aluminium is encouraging, according to the US Department of Energy (DOE).
The agency is seeking a “new, cheaper, and simpler approach to extract aluminum from the Arctic” and “a new approach to mining aluminium ore.”
The process is called “extraction through direct milling,” or EFM.
EFM is the first major new technology that has been developed in the United States to extract aluminium from an Arctic environment, according the DOI.
This new method, which will be applied to the Alberta-Saskatchewan region in September 2017, will reduce the cost of aluminium extraction from approximately $20 to $3 per ton, the DOI said.
This reduction in cost would help the US transition to an environmentally friendly energy future.
“We are excited to work with Canadian companies to develop this technology to reduce the energy cost associated with extracting aluminium from the Canadian Arctic, which is critical to the U.S. economy and its competitiveness in the global aluminum market,” DOE Secretary Rick Perry said in a statement.
The DOI will be working with Barrick, the company that developed the technology, to develop a new method of extraction, the agency said.
The new process is designed to “reduce the cost associated and the amount of time required to extract the aluminium from its source rock and then to process it into usable products,” the DOI explained.
Barrick has developed a process called EFM that is more efficient and cheaper than traditional milling methods.
Barrick says the new method will reduce extraction time to between two and five days.
Barick is developing a milling process for aluminium ore.
It uses a process similar to that of aluminum mining, but it uses “the newest technologies in milling technology,” according to Barrick’s website.
A US-based oil and gas company, Pioneer Natural Resources, has already started testing the new process in the Alberta tar sands.
Pioneer, which operates in the Permian Basin in western Texas, is also developing a new extraction method for copper, which uses advanced milling techniques.
As part of the Arctic exploration, the US has been deploying advanced military equipment and aircraft, such as drones, to help with the extraction process.
The drones have also been used in conjunction with the “EFM” method to make the extraction of aluminium much more efficient.
The technology is also expected to cut the energy costs associated with aluminium extraction, which would help US industry transition to a more environmentally friendly future.