Sterling Vanderzee, PhD Student, University of British Columbia


Sterling grew up on the Sunshine Coast, B.C. and completed his B.Sc. in Geological Sciences at Queen’s University in 2013. He then completed a Master’s in Environmental Studies at Queen’s University on sequestering CO2 through the production of industrial minerals from waste cement. Sterling began his Ph.D. in Geology at the Mineral Deposit Research Unit of the University of British Columbia in 2016.

Since starting at UBC, Sterling has been working with mining companies in B.C. and throughout the world to help them reduce their greenhouse gas emissions with CO2 sequestration technologies. Upon completing his Ph.D., Sterling aspires to continue to work as a CO2 sequestration consultant for industry and oversee the implementation of technologies currently under development.

Project: Carbon Capture and Utilization within Ultramafic Mine Tailings Management

The goal of my research is reduce the costs and risks associated with the storage of ultramafic mine tailings while sequestering CO2 through carbon mineralization. Herein, the tailings are physically stabilized by the rapid formation of secondary magnesium carbonate minerals which act as a cement within the tailings. The magnesium is sourced from minerals found within the tailings, such as brucite and serpentine. Once released into water, the magnesium ions can react with dissolved CO2 to safely sequester the greenhouse gas in mineral form. Serpentine is typically far more abundant than brucite in ultramafic tailings, however brucite is highly more reactive with CO2.

This means that the selective targeting of brucite can bypass the need for energy intensive chemical processes, which currently hinder the economic viability of CO2 sequestration technologies. Furthermore, by exposing the tailings to a CO2-rich gas, such as the flue gases produced by on-site thermal power plants, the carbon mineralization reactions can be enhanced and accelerated, producing more rapidly and thoroughly cemented tailings. This research on tailings cementation through carbon mineralization could be instrumental to the mining industry by improving economics by reducing carbon taxes and also by stabilizing the tailings at a lower cost.