KWG Resources has applied for a patent on a new refining process that would make processing chromite from the Ring of Fire more viable in Ontario.
"Instead of using electricity to break down the chromite into its (ferrochrome), we're using natural gas," said Moe Lavigne, vice-president of KWG.
"We engaged a lab to do this research for us over the past number of months. We've now come to the conclusion this is going to be a much more economical way of reducing chromite to ferrochrome," he added.
Lavigne said this could be a game-changer for the mining industry, allowing companies to process chromite in the province instead of going to Manitoba or Quebec where energy is less expensive.
The process of refining the chromite wouldn't change much from using natural gas over electric furnaces; the only difference would be in the cost.
While Lavigne couldn't say just how much money this could save KWG, he did say it wouldn't be a project they're looking to use government subsidies for; the same goes for the company's proposed north-south rail transportation corridor to the Ring of Fire.
"They're self-financing," he said. "They're also much more economical so that means that the economic sustainability of operations in the Ring of Fire would be much greater."
More tests need to be done on the technique, which isn't really that new. Testing was done in South Africa decades ago but Lavigne said that country doesn't have enough natural gas or cheap enough natural gas to move ahead with the process.
The patent application process is still at the beginning, but Lavigne said most of the infrastructure they would need for the gas reduction process is already in place.
They could use the shutdown smelter plant in Timmins, he said.
Once the chromite is refined through the gas process to about 80 per cent metal, it would then be sent to electric plants that already exist in Canada to be further refined, said Lavigne.