Miner plans $1bn plant to convert sulphur dioxide into gypsum to meet environmental rules
For the best part of 80 years, Russian miner Norilsk Nickel has been one of the world’s biggest metal producers, tapping vast reserves of nickel, copper and palladium in the country’s Arctic. But soon its future survival could depend on producing a vastly different product: gypsum.
Manufacturing the chalky mineral will not make money. The company admits that it does not even know what it will do with it. But come 2023, when it starts producing 5m tonnes a year, the superfluous piles of dusty aggregate will be worth billions of dollars.
That is because Nornickel, as the company is also known, is one of Russia’s biggest polluters, spewing some 1.67m tonnes of harmful sulphur dioxide each year into the air around the city of Norilsk.
For decades, that has been largely ignored by company officials and local authorities, despite heavy pressure from environmental groups. The company has also been able to absorb the small financial penalties.
But in 2023, a new environmental diktat means the company will be forced to cut its harmful emissions by 75 per cent or risk exorbitant financial penalties up to 100 times larger than now. That big threat to its business has seen the company stop dragging its heels and devise a solution from gypsum — the soft mineral used for fertilisers and plasterboard.
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