SOROWAKO, Indonesia — Red hot sparks fly through the air as a worker in a heat-resistant suit pokes a long metal rod into a nickel smelter, coaxing the molten metal from a crucible at a processing facility on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.
The smelter run by global mining firm Vale and powered by electricity from three dams churns out 75,000 tons of nickel a year for use in batteries, electric vehicles, appliances and many other products.
While the smelting creates heavy emissions of greenhouse gases, the power used is relatively clean. Such possible reductions in emissions come as demand for critical minerals like nickel and cobalt is surging as climate change hastens a transition to renewable energy.
Mining operations account for some 4%-7% of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to global consulting firm McKinsey & Company. But some miners are moving to reduce use of fossil fuels in extracting and refining, partly due to pressure from downstream customers that want more sustainable supply chains.