Phoenix Tailings wants to extract cobalt and nickel without using mines
The young start-up Phoenix Tailings offers a metal extraction offer for the industry using only “waste” mining.
At the beginning of the last century, several hundred thousand people worked in the mines. This painful and dangerous task gradually left Europe for other countries. Since coal was no longer so prized, the metals sought can now be found in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) or China.
These “rare earths” (which are rare only in name) are extracted under very complicated conditions. In Africa, children work, sometimes more than 14 hours a day, to fetch cobalt from mines without any security. In addition to the risks taken by the workers, this exploitation of the soil is a real danger for the planet. Working at the mine requires the use of a lot of energy and water, rare commodities that are crucial for limiting global warming.
In order to do without mining, a startup from the suburbs of Boston in the United States had an idea. She wants to use “mining waste” to extract new resources. Often piled up on the surface without anyone paying attention, this waste is actually an open treasure.
“Waste” not so interesting
They are often rich in minerals. The company Phoenix Tailings therefore wants to exploit these blocks of rock to extract the precious materials that are inside. She says she wants to “make the most of what we already have” rather than drilling new holes.
According to one estimate, there are more than 280 billion tons of “waste”. mining in the world. Anthony Balladon, co-founder of the startup, explains that this mud is crushed to extract one or two interesting materials, but the mines often stop at their only field of activity.
“ A gold mine cares about the gold, it doesn't care about the iron, nickel or rare earths in it. ”With its proprietary platform, the young company hopes to be able to extract new metals from this waste. First using water to clean the waste of impurities, the company then plays with the laws of magnetism and electricity to separate the elements from each other.
This method is advertised as much less energy-intensive than conventional mining work. A solution capable of helping industry, especially the automotive or IT sectors. Two areas that have been heavily affected in 2021 by a shortage of components.
Reducing the monopoly of China and Russia
While a large part of the extractions are done today oday in China, the Middle Kingdom had limited exports to put pressure on the Taiwanese economy. The shortage had led to plant closures for lack of parts at several assembly plants in Europe.
In France car manufacturers were particularly affected and several sites closed temporarily. For Anthony Balladon, his solution makes it possible to break away from the Chinese or Russian monopoly. A necessary distance when geopolitical tensions have been very high since February and the invasion of Ukraine by Russia.