The Aurus III Copper Venture Fund

Copper is one of those metals that the world is going to need more of as we move into clean energy. One major reason for this is its recyclability, which gives it some important advantages over other materials that aren't quite so easily recycled. Other reasons include the fact that many of the technologies involved in producing environmentally friendly products require copper ie components in electrical vehicles, batteries etc. However, whilst it would be nice to think that recycled copper could meet the majority of our future copper requirements, this isn't the case. Therefore, the copper industry in conjunction with start-ups has been looking at innovative ways to mine and process copper that will satisfy commodity demand whilst also meeting the growing demand for sustainability. Current processes are on the whole good but as with most things, there is also room for considerable improvement.

With this in mind, the copper-centric Aurus III Copper Venture Fund was established in Santiago in Chile to provide funding to start-ups and new tech companies interested in developing technologies that will benefit the copper industry. The fund will provide an all-important bridge between ideas and the implementation of those ideas, which is often where start-ups are left floundering as they find it difficult to get into partnerships with mining companies. The fund will also help fill the gaps left by governmental policies that are designed in principle to support technical enterprise and innovation but don't actually go the whole distance, leaving a significant gap that is all too often unbridgeable.

The primary qualifications for start-ups and ventures looking to qualify for funding include:
  • finding new applications and uses for copper that will help sustain demand and hence copper mining,
  • development of important services and supplies for copper mining operations, and
  • innovative solutions that will improve processes, sustainability, and competitiveness in the industry

With this in mind, some of the early qualifiers for funding include:

  • EcoTR, a start-up involved in recycling old tyres from mining vehicles - there are around 38,000 of these vehicles globally! The company has developed technology that recycles old Off Road tyres into high quality CO2-neutral EcoFuel and carbon black EcoCB biofuel. Chile traditionally has had no way of effectively recycling these OTR tyres, which make up one quarter of the country's scrap tyres.
  • Vizutire, a company that has developed a more accurate way of inspecting tyres on mining vehicles. Currently OTR tyre replacement costs the Chilean mining industry around $60 million annually with over 10,000 tyres being disposed of possibly before they need to be due to inadequacies in the current 'hammer knocking' method of determining if they need to be replaced and the 'if in doubt retire' policy that arises when one can't be quite sure if a tyre is still safe or not! Vizutire though has developed a method of detecting and assessing non-visible damage via 3D imaging technology and software that analyses every aspect of the tyre to produce an accurate assessment of its condition, including detection of faults and potential failures. The technology has enabled mining companies to increase the operating hours life of OTR tyres from an average of 4 ½k, to 6k.
  • Scarab Recovery Technologies is working on ways to recover calcium oxide and other valuable materials from tailings. Currently CaO accounts for around 17% of the operating costs of hydrocyclones and traditionally none of it is recycled; it all goes out into the tailings. Scarab aims to change that by coming up with a way to recover these materials so they can be recycled and considerably reduce processing costs.
  • Minesense is working on technology that provides ore grade measurement at the shovel or conveyor belt stage, allowing for selective extraction and processing. This will not only maximise recovery rates but also increases margin by 20%, uses 25% less energy and water, and results in a 40% reduction in tailings.
  • Novamineralis is working on an innovative bio-friendly proprietary solution for leaching primary sulphide ores using traditional heap leaching methods. It uses natural bacteria to catalyse oxidative agents within the solution, reducing processing time by up to 2/3rds of the time normally needed for other bio-leaching solutions.
  • MIT is a company that is working on a molten sulphide electrolytic process for extracting copper as an alternative to traditional, and environmentally unfriendly, pyro-metallurgical smelting. The method could result in energy savings of up to 50% and has the potential to use renewable energy sources. It also removes smelter emissions and is able to recover other elements along with the copper.
  • GlassPoint is looking at the use of solar thermal desalination and concentration systems that were originally designed for improving oil recovery. The process will be able to operate around the clock and produces no CO2 emissions. It's also cheaper than open-air lithium brine and comparative with reverse osmosis systems running on LNG.
  • Timining is developing 3D geotechnical pit management and fleet software that permits real time monitoring and management of pit conditions and the hauling system. It also allows operators to compare mining plan with real life situations then develop and weigh up various other options.

Other countries could do well to follow Chile's example and set up their own similar funding ventures to bring together innovators and industry for mutual benefit..

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Friday, 24 May 2019
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