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BHP studies the potential for using nickel mine waste to capture carbon

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MELBOURNE, Oct 21 (Reuters) - BHP Group is looking at the potential to use the waste from its Australian nickel mining operations to capture and store carbon and will conduct field trials this financial year.

It is also harnessing new technologies to look deeper underground for minerals critical to the energy transition like nickel and copper, Chief Technical Officer Laura Tyler will say at a trade conference in London, according to prepared remarks.

BHP mines the metal at its Nickel West operations in Western Australia. It also processes nickel into high quality powder, 85% of which goes to the battery industry. This year it signed a deal to supply nickel - a key ingredient in electric vehicle batteries - to Tesla Inc.

Waste from Nickel West operations is high in magnesium oxide, which can pull carbon out of the air to create magnesium carbonate, a stable compound in the form of a salt, according to Tyler.

"That material can then be left safely in situ, or used in building materials like carbon neutral cement or plasterboard," her prepared remarks said.

BHP’s trials will be conducted at its Mt Keith tailings dam in Western Australia.

At five kilometres wide, the dam can already store some 40,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year, enough to offset around 15,000 average-sized combustion engine cars. Researchers believe it could store far more CO2 every year if the mineral carbonation rate could be enhanced through different processes and engineering solutions.

The miner is also using real-time sensors, multi-physics arrays and data analytics to speed up decision-making, cut logistics requirements and increase the potential for discoveries.

BHP on Wednesday topped a takeover offer for Noront Resources Ltd from Australian billionaire Andrew Forrest's Wyloo Metals, as the two groups vie for greater access to the high-grade nickel deposit.

(Reporting by Melanie Burton; Editing by Edwina Gibbs)