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Next-generation metals technology being piloted in Fort St. John

Innovative new technology to produce environmentally-friendly magnesium metal is being developed and piloted in Fort St. John.
Western Magnesium Corp. plans to build commercial magnesium metal plants in the Lower Mainland and Harrison County, Ohio. It is piloting innovative new magnesium reactor technology in Fort St. John. (Western Magnesium Corporation)

Innovative new technology to produce environmentally-friendly magnesium metal is being developed and piloted in Fort St. John.

U.S.-based Western Magnesium Corp. said Monday that commissioning of its pilot magnesium reactor had been completed and was ready to receive feed materials at its partner facilities in Fort St. John. The next-generation technology is being proven for commercial plants being built in the Lower Mainland and the United States.

“I’m excited to have the commissioning process finally behind us and I’m looking forward to our next steps,” company CEO Sam Ataya said in a statement.

“Not only will the new reactor be able to produce magnesium metal at our Fort St. John facility, but we will be able to expand production once our main commercial pilot plant is fully assembled and operational. These two separate events are coming to fruition in a timely manner according to management’s expectations.”

Magnesium is one of the most abundant elements on the planet, and lighter than other metals such as aluminum, titanium, and steel. It is highly sought after in the automotive, aerospace, electronics, and defense industries, with demand soon expected to outstrip current global production of about 1.1 million metric tonnes, most of it from China, according to the company.

The current production environment, however, is high cost and labour intensive, using outdated processes with environmental impacts. According to a company handout, its methodology uses dolomite material and a continuous silicothermic process to produce 99.8% pure magnesium.

At the Fort St. John facility, buildout of the reactor was completed earlier this spring with testing having started in the summer. According to the company, the reactor is a first-of-its-kind continuous internally heated reduction furnace that, coupled with a condenser, “will allow for maximum continuous production from pit or stockpile, to magnesium metal, to the end-user in timely manner.”

The company says its proprietary technology is environmentally friendly, using automation to lower labour costs and processes that increase energy efficiency while generating nearly zero toxic byproducts and waste.

“This is very disruptive technology with controllable parameters from an efficiency, energy, and environmental standpoint,” the company stated. “A process that assembly line manufacturers have longed for.”

The company says all electrical, instrumentation, and vacuum testing on the reactor are complete, with the reactor now ready to receive feed. Equipment being used in the feed testing will help verify that the reactor's construction materials are correct while confirming other "very valuable data" for its continuous operation, the company said.

“The operation and results of this reactor will collect and confirm data from the various advanced technologies contained within it,” said Ed Lee, the company’s executive chairman. "This new reactor will be incorporated into the design of the commercial pilot plant and the units for the Harrison County, Ohio production plant.”

The company has previously announced plans to build a $1-billion plant in Harrison County capable of producing 100,000 metric tonnes of magnesium, or 10% of current global capacity.

In the Lower Mainland, a commercial pilot plant is currently under construction and progressing well, the company said, with factory acceptance testing underway for its electrical and instrumentation equipment and structural steel installation ongoing. The purpose of the plant is to produce and certify the magnesium metal for industries the company says it is in discussions with and to move toward finalizing purchase and joint venture agreements. Commissioning of the plant will commence once construction is completed, the company said.

“This is truly exciting as not only will we be producing metal from our commercial pilot plant but at the same time we are developing next generation technology which will be incorporated and will continue our competitive edge both economically and environmentally, over foreign producers," said CEO Ataya.

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