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Articles by Jim Robbins, Yale Environment 360

Jim Robbins is a veteran journalist based in Helena, Montana and a regular contributor to Yale Environment 360.

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Can metals that naturally occur in seawater be mined, and can they be mined sustainably? A company in Oakland, California, says yes. And not only is it extracting magnesium from ocean water — and from waste brine generated by industry — it is doing it in a carbon-neutral way. Magrathea Metals has produced small amounts of magnesium in pilot projects, and with financial support from the U.S. Defense Department, it is building a larger-scale facility to produce hundreds of tons of the metal over two to four years. By 2028, it says it plans to be operating a facility that will annually produce more than 10,000 tons.

Magnesium is far lighter and stronger than steel, and it’s critical to the aircraft, automobile, steel, and defense industries, which is why the government has bankrolled the venture. Right now, China produces about 85 percent of the world’s magnesium in a dirty, carbon-intensive process. Finding a way to produce magnesium domestically using renewable energy, then, is not only an economic and environmental issue, it’s a strategic one. “With a flick of a finger, China could shut down steelmaking i... Read more

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