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Sustainability at the Center

:: Tuesday, June 15, 2021 :: Posted By Evan Stevens

At U.S. Borax, we produce materials essential to human progress. Human history is characterized by progress. We measure progress in eras (from stone to bronze to iron and beyond), revolutions (political, industrial), and generations (baby boomers, Gen X, millennials, Gen Z). Now, our progress might be inhibited by progress itself as we face the challenges of climate change.

But those challenges are also providing opportunities for humans to find new ways to progress. You may have noticed a shift in climate change discussions as corporations actively focus on seeking practical solutions. Many public company CEOs have pledged to decarbonize, and broadly target set zero emission goals—that is, implement substantive changes to reduce carbon emissions.

The plans they share address decarbonization in a variety of ways such as:

  • Improving widespread electrification: Delivery leaders such as FedEx, UPS, Amazon, and the U.S. Postal Service are moving to all-electric fleets. Likewise, you or someone you know probably owns an electric car. Auto makers have vowed to stop making gasoline combustion engines by 2030 for Ford (in Europe) and 2035 for GM (globally).
  • Developing sustainable electricity production and storage: Power and technology companies are developing creative solutions for making electric energy more available and efficient.
  • Reducing emissions from manufacturing: Leading manufacturers are committing to energy-saving products, technologies, and processes.
  • Carbon sequestration: Companies in the energy industry (and across industries) are developing technologies such as underground capture systems and direct air capture to actively remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere

 

Borates and sustainability: A natural synergy

Across industries, these high-profile sustainability projects are taking center stage. But at U.S. Borax, our borate products have been contributing to  solutions for dealing with climate change for decades. Borates are naturally present throughout our environment—and they offer a wide range of benefits for industrial processes. In these applications, they can help to enhance or improve product properties while improving process efficiency and effectiveness.

Saving energy and money

Borates are frequently leveraged in process innovations to reduce energy requirements. For example, in boron-containing glass such as in display glass, glass wool, fiberglass, pharmaceutical glass and traditional borosilicate glass, borates act as a flux and network former that helps reduce the energy needed for glass formation. U.S. Borax is a significant partner in research into fuel efficiency innovations for glass manufacturing.

Recovery and recycling

Reuse of materials is a critical component of sustainability across manufacturing sectors. Metal recovery and recycling, for example, uses 90-94% less energy than producing new material. High-quality refined borates are essential in metal recycling, acting as a flux and improving process quality and safety.

Reducing our carbon footprint

Building designers and urban planners are increasingly returning to wood as a replacement for high-emissions building materials such as concrete. Sustainable wood products play a key role in the capture and storage of C02. Before harvest, trees convert CO2 to oxygen, and after harvest, the wood continues to store the carbon, even after the lumber is used in buildings and structures. Borates play a critical role in the creation, protection, and flame retardancy of wood and engineered wood products such as cross laminated timber. These engineered wood products are permitting designs for wood structures to push the previous boundaries of lumber construction and truly replace applications where concrete or steel was a necessity. Construction trends are shifting away from traditional concrete and steel which is responsible for one-third of the global greenhouse gas emissions in favor of wood construction being renewable, sustainable, and more cost effective. Even in pulp mills, borates help reduce CO2 emissions from lime causticizing processes.

Supporting healthy forests and improving crop yields

U.S. Borax is supporting farmers and foresters by supplying essential boron as a micronutrient. When farmers optimize their yields, they can produce more food on the land they have available. This in turn reduces the need to clear forests and preserves the trees for carbon capture. And borates provide multiple benefits that support healthy forests, from supporting tree growth to protecting trees from assault by insects, fungus, and rot.

U.S. Borax at the leading edge of sustainability innovations

At U.S. Borax, our long history of environmental stewardship provides a foundation for our current and ongoing sustainability programs—such as our partnership with Heliogen to use solar-power technology to generate carbon-free energy at our Boron facility. And we are continually expanding our support of emerging innovations.

As automobiles, trucking, and even mining operations move towards electrification, borates lend their unique hydrogen-bonding properties to the production of batteries and hydrogen storage. Our mining operation in Boron, California, is implementing a process to extract lithium from our processing waste. Lithium is essential for manufacturing batteries that are in everything from phones to cars.

As we electrify our lives, there will be innovations that influence the choices we make when purchasing materials or consumer goods. Will your next TV have a nutrition label illustrating how it much its manufacturing impacted climate? U.S. Borax's parent company Rio Tinto and InBev is doing just that for aluminum beverage cans. This initiative aligns with ongoing investment into how to create low carbon emission aluminum from electric smelting.

Rio Tinto is also partnering with steel and iron producers to find solutions that reduce emissions in the production of those essential materials. Classic iron making from blast furnaces is a significant contributor to CO2 emissions today. Conversion to electric arc furnaces for processing recycled steel has already shown positive improvements in North America. As this technology is implemented more broadly, and electricity for direct reduction technology replaces coke for blast furnaces, will other material and service innovations be required?

Optimizing transportation in supply chains is a simple way to make immediate changes to our emissions. Our customers already work with us to find the most cost-effective supply chain solutions for their markets. While bulk options are often advantageous, and rail boxcars often offer a cost advantage over trucking freight, organizations must also consider potential increased cost for bulk handling equipment or increased transportation time. Many organizations carefully weigh the value of these transportation choices as part of a strategy to reduce emissions—and potentially avoid carbon credit purchases.

Building on history—and leading the way to a sustainable future

Throughout our history, society has proven our ability to adapt, even in the face of monumental challenges. As organizations take the lead in decarbonization innovations and technologies, they are again demonstrating that we have the power to effect positive change when we work together.

With our decades of scientific expertise, our high-quality refined borate products, and our own corporate commitment to sustainability, we are proud to support the creative solutions that will improve life on Earth for generations to come.




 

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U.S. Borax, part of Rio Tinto, is a global leader in the supply and science of borates—naturally-occurring minerals containing boron and other elements. We are 1,000 people serving 500 customers with more than 1,700 delivery locations globally. We supply 30% of the world’s need for refined borates from our world-class mine in Boron, California, about 100 miles northeast of Los Angeles.  Learn more about Rio Tinto.

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