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Magnesite mining gets boost from CSIRO tech

Australia’s CSIRO has developed a new magnesium processing technique, known as MagSonic, which can produce the valuable element using up to 80 percent less energy and with up to 60 percent fewer emissions — and presents opportunities to get more from our vast, untapped reserves of magnesite.

Magnesium is very useful. An extremely lightweight element, it forms very strong alloys when mixed with other metals. This combination of lightness and strength makes magnesium alloys highly sought-after for use in phones, laptops and even vehicle manufacturing.

Magnesium does not occur naturally on its own (at least on Earth); rather it is found within chemical compounds such as magnesite and dolomite. Up until now extracting the magnesium was expensive, dirty and labour-intensive. This in turn drives up the price of magnesium, and the products that contain it.

CSIRO’s MagSonic technique involves heating magnesite with carbon to form magnesium oxide, which is then further heated to extreme temperatures to produce magnesium vapour and carbon dioxide.

These gases are then forced through a ‘supersonic nozzle’ (similar to a jet engine) at four times the speed of sound. This cools the gas in milliseconds, condensing and solidifying the magnesium vapour into magnesium metal.

The CSIRO believes that the advancement will make magnesium more attractive as its production is more cost-effective. The potential knock-on effects could be lower prices for electronics, cars and any other products that use magnesium.

Going even further, the team also believe using the technology to process Australia’s vast reserves of magnesite has the potential to unlock new business opportunities in both mining and manufacturing.

“The growth of magnesium use has been limited because it’s been too expensive and labour-intensive to produce the metal from ore using traditional processes,” CSIRO sustainable processing group lead Dr Mark Cooksey says.

“MagSonic technology offers an economically viable solution to overcome these issues and make cleaner, cheaper magnesium more available and affordable to manufacturers,” Dr Cooksey says.

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