November 15, 2012 - 8:41pm By ROGER TAYLOR Business Column
n case you missed it, a Montreal company with a relatively new “environmentally neutral” method of extracting alumina has dreams of setting up here.
Orbite Aluminae Inc., which bills itself as a “clean-tech company,” said Wednesday it could someday spend about $1 billion to build an alumina “refinery” in Nova Scotia that could employ as many as 400 people — if everything goes as planned.
Alumina is best known as a key element in the manufacture of aluminum, but it is also used as a catalyst for a variety of reactions. For example, it is used in oil refineries to convert hydrogen sulfide waste gases into sulphur.
That is big news, especially in a province where people are leaving rural areas to seek urban employment opportunities. And, so far, the company hasn’t asked the provincial government for financial support.
But there is a long way to go before the dream becomes reality.
In the company’s favour, Orbite’s method of refining alumina reportedly can be done without creating a “toxic red mud residue” it says results from more traditional methods.
On its website, the Quebec company states it owns 11 different families of intellectual property rights and pending patents “for the extraction of alumina at the highest standards of sustainability.”
But Orbite is starting small with the acquisition of a three-year option on 163 claims involving 2,608 hectares known as the Chaswood kaolin clay and sand property in Musquodoboit Valley.
The property, within Halifax Regional Municipality, was first explored for its kaolin clay resource. It is the type of clay used as a filler for glossy paper and for making ceramic dishes. Orbite reports a total of 34 exploratory holes were drilled, first by the provincial government and then by Kaoclay Resources Inc.
The drill results helped Orbite determine its interest in the kaolin property and helped it to move forward with a plan to acquire the claims and exploration rights for the Chaswood property from AlNova Mining Inc. of Bridgetown in the hopes of developing the alumina resource.
Before Wednesday’s announcement, Orbite indicated it already held the mining rights to more than 60,000 hectares, including the 6,665-hectare Grande-Vallee property that is an aluminous clay deposit in Quebec.
The company says the potential refinery would have the added benefit of being near the Maritimes & Northeast pipeline, which could provide fuel for the facility. Although the company singled out the Port of Halifax as a possible shipment point, the mine and refinery wouldn’t be far from the port of Sheet Harbour.
Besides extracting smelter-grade alumina, Orbite states that its method of refining has the ability to extract three high-value products from the same aluminous clay feedstock: metallurgical-grade alumina, high-purity alumina and rare earth minerals.
Under the agreement to acquire the Chaswood property, Orbite must spend $1 million developing it by the end of next year if it wants to acquire 100 per cent of the claims and licences.
The company is required to submit a technical report by the end of 2014, and if it decides to exercise the option, it must issue 2.4 million common Orbite shares to AlNova by Jan. 1, 2016.
The potential appears to be great, but because it is still in the dream stage, the relatively low-key way Orbite was introduced to the public was the best way to handle the announcement.
Roger Taylor is The Chronicle Herald's business columnist.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @thisrogertaylor