There are 280 billion tons of mining waste. This startup is putting it to good use – by Adele Peters (Fast Company – November 7, 2022)

Phoenix Tailings uses new technology to get key minerals out of mining waste.

Digging up and extracting the minerals needed to make electric car batteries or wind turbines comes at an environmental cost, using huge amounts of energy and dangerous chemicals and creating toxic pollution. But one Boston-area startup is getting some key materials in a different way: Instead of mining them from the ground, it uses new technology to extract them from mining waste.

“For us, it’s about figuring out how can we extract the most from the waste that has already been mined,” says Anthony Balladon, cofounder and VP of partnerships at the startup, Phoenix Tailings. “It has already been dug out of the ground. How can we make the most of what we’ve already done, rather than dig up new holes somewhere else?”

By one estimate, there are more than 280 billion tons of global “tailings,” the sludge left behind as rocks are crushed and ground to extract metals or other minerals. Right now, mines typically don’t try to capture all of the value that’s left behind.

“Traditional mines will go after one, maybe two metals in an ore source, throwing the rest away,” Balladon says. “Not because it’s not valuable, but because it’s not what they’re geared to extract—a goldmine cares about gold, they don’t care about the iron or the nickel or the rare earths that are in there.”

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