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PGF to support innovation in ‘green mining’ project

Provincial Growth Fund (PGF) support for a high-tech venture to extract minerals from geothermal fluid will help commercialise a world-first in ‘green mining’.

PGF to support global innovation in ‘green mining’ project

Provincial Growth Fund (PGF) support for a high-tech venture to extract valuable minerals from geothermal fluid will create jobs, boost renewable electricity generation efficiencies and help commercialise a world-first in ‘green mining’.

Geo40, a Tāupo-based company employing 19 people, has today been awarded $15 million in loan funding, from the PGF. Geo40 has developed the technology to build and operate the world’s first commercial demonstration plant to extract silica from the geothermal fluid used for power generation, after which the geothermal fluid is reinjected back into the underground geothermal reservoir.

Geo40 Managing Director, John Lea, said PGF support is a ‘game changer’ in a New Zealand market where it is difficult to raise new capital for getting to full commercialisation. The funding will now enable the rapid development of a full-scalecommercial plant at the site of Contact Energy’s Ohaaki geothermal operations to the south of Rotorua in New Zealand.

“This support will create up to 70 jobs over the plant’s construction and eventually create up to 30 permanent jobs in the area. We will continue to work with our Ahuwhenua partner, the Ngati Tahu Tribal Lands Trust, and Contact Energy to ensure jobs and training opportunities for local tangata whenua. Currently a number of operational jobs in the project are from Ngati Tahu,” said John Lea.

“Building the commercial plant will enable us to quickly demonstrate the capability of this world-first technology and then move on to expansion on the Ohaaki site and additional projects in other geothermal fields, both in New Zealand and internationally.

“The colloidal silica ‘mined’ from the waste geothermal fluid is a high-value specialty mineral which is internationally sought-after in a range of technical applications, such as in the construction, ceramics, and paint industries.”

John Lea said Geo40 has partnered with leading geothermal electricity producer Contact Energy Ltd, which is providing access to the geothermal fluid at the Ohaaki field.

“The partnership with Contact is an important one – we have successfully run a commercial demonstration plant for the last 15 months at the Ohaaki field. The removal of silica from the waste geothermal fluid helps prevent scaling, or silica build-up in the geothermal pipes and reinjection wells, which can then help to maximise geothermal electricity production.”

Contact Energy’s Chief Generation and Development Officer, James Kilty, congratulated Geo40 on the approval of their Provincial Growth Fund application.

“We are pleased that with this support Geo40 will be able to proceed with their exciting venture at our Ohaaki operations. It will be a great boost to the region and is pleasing for Contact to continue to support geothermal innovation.”

John Lea said alongside improving the efficiency of geothermal electricity generation, the removal of silica from the waste geothermal fluid has already enabled the restoration of a Māori hot spring, or ngawha, in the Ohaaki field to its pristine natural beauty.”

John Lea said being able to progress quickly to a commercial silica recovery plant delivered against objectives that were important to New Zealand.

“We’re partnering with tangata whenua to create jobs and a sustainable industry, we’re extracting valuable minerals while protecting our environment and we’re enabling our geothermal partner to maximise their clean, renewable energy in support of New Zealand’s climate change commitments.”

He said there was a high level of interest in Geo40’s silica recovery technology and products from overseas markets, particularly in the United States, parts of Asia and Japan. He said all of the commercial plant’s silica production is already covered by indicated off-take from international customers.

Geo40 has filed three patent applications over the last three years which are being considered internationally and when granted would provide intellectual property protection for 25 years.

In addition to the silica extracted from geothermal fluid, Geo40 is also developing the technology to extract other minerals, including lithium. Laboratory research in the USA and Japan has confirmed that 85 per cent of lithium from the Ohaaki geothermal fluid can be extracted and Geo40 will look to test this technology in its commercial demonstration plant in late 2019.

“We welcome the support and confidence shown in Geo40 by the Provincial Growth Fund in providing this funding to enable us to finalise the commercialisation of this exciting new green technology. We are committed to delivering a significant world-class commercial project that creates jobs, enhances our environment and helps to grow our regions.”

John Lea: johnl@geo40.com