The mining industry is a heavyweight, a cornerstone of international trade and for over a century, has been a driver of global growth. But the industry suffers from high operating costs and a significant environmental toll, requiring vast swathes of land to operate and generating tailings that can contaminate groundwater and disrupt ecosystems.
And yet it is indispensable, with the minerals that power our modern industries as economically important today as coal once was in powering the Industrial Revolution of the early 20th century.
Today, mined ores are processed to produce materials essential to an unlikely bedfellow—the green economy—and used in a range of devices including the solar panels that produce renewable energy, as well as the batteries that store it.
The problem comes when these devices reach their end of life, since the devices produce waste products that are difficult to process, creating a potential environmental risk. A February 2020 article by Bloomberg reveals how retired wind turbine blades end their lives in landfills, their crucial mineral components unable to be salvaged by existing recycling technologies. Solar panels, similarly, degrade under constant exposure to the sun, and the batteries used by both clean energy systems and electric vehicles only work for a limited number of charge cycles before they too must be discarded. Recovering key materials from these systems is proving to be a major environmental challenge.
For decades, this has created a problem: the green economy relies heavily on materials that remain locked up in the Earth’s crust, and which it is laborious, time-intensive, and environmentally unsustainable to unearth. They are then used to create single-lifetime products that are not recycled. If we are going to continue developing green tech—and we must—then we need to get mining right. Our sustainable future depends on it.
Innovating the Mining Industry
In the face of those environmental and economic pressures, the global mining industry is on the verge of a sea change. New technologies are emerging that promise to challenge traditional mining, with its high capital and operating costs and outsize environmental side-effects, and to reform the industry from the inside out.
One standout example is Temas Resources (TMAS:CN | TMASF:US), the brainchild of industry veteran Kyler Hardy. The company was created as a means of capitalizing on a number of patents recently developed by ORF Technologies Inc., a green mineral process developer in which Temas has just acquired a 50% stake. To implement the patents alongside other technologies licensed from MetaleachTM, the company brought on Michael Dehn, a widely respected geologist, metals expert, and industry insider with extensive experience in titanium and gold mining, who now aims to change the cost basis for large-scale minerals mining overall.
Armed with the know-how, the tech, and an experienced team, Temas looks set to lead widespread industry reform across the mining industry, with the aim of generating revenues both from minerals extraction and technology licensing. Their early calls to investors have focused heavily on their licensing advantage, pointing out the large-scale benefits to creating an ecosystem of sustainable mining operations. Temas intends not just to be a leader, but to act as a source of technology-based change in the industry.
Why It’ll Work—Cost Advantage
Common wisdom is that we have to choose between making products better, faster, or cheaper. With the acquisition of the ORF patents, Temas promises to do all three at once,
revolutionizing the downstream mining process by offering higher extraction efficiencies at lower capital costs, along with the ability to process tailings to significantly lessen their environmental footprint.
Temas’ new model is a showcase of the kinds of innovations that are likely to drive mining forward over the next twenty years, thanks to the likely impact of its new technologies. There are two primary pieces to this.
The first is profitability. Most mining companies focus their efforts on increasing efficiency at what they do best: excavating and removing ore from the ground. Temas, by contrast, is focused on the downstream process of refining using novel methods. They offer a purer final product, delivered in less time and with lower capital costs. For instance, ORF’s process for extracting TiO2 is estimated to be almost 60% more cost-efficient than that used by the world’s largest TiO2 producer. Those gains are a direct result of the technology itself, which involves dissolving the crushed rocks in hydrochloric acid to extract an extremely high purity product.
That cost advantage will allow the company to engage competitively in the huge global market for TiO2, a highly versatile, bioinert material indispensable to at least half a dozen industries—it forms the white base for pharmaceutical tablets and for paint, acts as the active UV-repelling ingredient in sunscreen, and has a host of uses in electronics. One recent internal estimate suggests that companies reliant on TiO2 extraction might be able to achieve an overall cost savings of 20% or more using Temas’ technique.
Or, consider nickel, or more precisely, nickel salt, which is one of the key components in EV batteries. The new extraction methods let Temas skip entire steps in the traditional production process, turning ore straight into end-use-ready nickel salt without the need for intermediate refinement. The net effect of this change is to allow miners to take on a crucial role as end-suppliers to battery manufacturers in the EV value chain. There are complementary benefits as well, including significant cuts in operating expenses and a greater degree of control over the final product.
These innovations might be beside the point if Temas were not also well-positioned both financially and operationally, with two major projects already underway. One is a recent JV with Erin Ventures that will soon position them to become the EU’s largest supplier of boron—replacing a more traditional mining company beset with environmental concerns.
With that momentum behind them, Temas’ technological innovations look poised to upend the industry. CEO Michael Dehn recently commented that he doesn’t even see Temas as a mining operation per se, instead envisioning it “becoming a mining technology or mineral processing company.” With the advantages of making mineral extraction better, faster and cheaper, that looks likely to happen.
The Benefit for Green Investment
Alongside profitability, the second reason for optimism in Temas’ model is environmental. The same nickel extraction process that eliminates the need for traditional refinement can be applied to nickel-containing products, not just to raw ore, by combining it with technology developed by MetaleachTM. That creates powerful possibilities for sustainability, as it may allow the company to more efficiently reclaim nickel from used EV batteries, potentially eliminating the largest environmental downside of the entire EV market. More immediately, it means Temas can reprocess tailings left behind by other miners to remove heavy metals and contaminants, simultaneously reducing the harmful impact of traditional mining and creating yet another lucrative revenue stream.
The new extraction methods aren’t just more efficient, either. They are also far less energy-intensive, meaning they offer a high-value opportunity to institutional investors operating under ESG guidelines. Temas’ portfolio of licensed technologies has three relevant upsides: reduced environmental impact relative to traditional mining; future potential for recycling and reclamation; and a lower carbon footprint. Capital invested in the portfolio satisfies ESG requirements while still offering investors the security of a traditional, established, blue-chip industry.
Investing in technologies like these is how we can power the development of a greener, more successful mining industry. And that matters, because mining is here to stay: the question isn’t whether we’ll mine for the minerals we need, but how. Temas Resources is pointing the way forward toward a cheaper, more efficient, and ultimately more environmentally sustainable answer to that question. It’s an inspiring future.