Metalysis and disrupting the metals production industry
Metalysis is transforming the metals production industry through its patented disruptive technology. The company could truly change the way the world produces metals, alloys and even rare earth metals in the future. Metalysis is a clean, green technology with the potential to substantially lower the cost of metals production across a vast multibillion dollar market.
In short, the Metalysis process to simplify the metal powder production while reducing costs. This is achieved through the metal remaining in a solid state with zero melting taking place – the powder is produced directly from the metal oxide. The environmental benefits come from significantly lower CO2 emissions due to the use of calcium chloride which contains the toxicity of “table” salt and is recyclable for re use.
“The lightbulb moment occurred at Cambridge university over 10 years ago,” says Dion Vaughan, CEO of Metalysis
“Many oxides and beneficiated ores could be reduced directly to metal powders in an electro chemical process. It was a very important discovery in a scientific sense.”
In the decade that has followed, Metalysis has been developing this discovery and process into a full-scale industrial process with a business case.
“We’re ate the rapid point of commercialisation, as we are in the process of developing key partnerships to help push the company forward,” says Vaughan.
Vaughan believes that the USP of Metalysis is the fact that the process does not melt anything. Through Metalysis, metals production is done through solid state – the component changes on the inside but it does not melt. The process operates around 800 degrees Celsius which is significantly lower than the usual 1500 degrees Celsius and above used in larger companies.
“The amount of energy that is used in creating the same end product is significantly less. We are using less energy and operating with a substantially lower output of Carbon Dioxide,” says Vaughan.
The process also doesn’t use any other chemicals, whereas large scale mining companies may use strong acids in the process, presenting environmental concern.
“The major inputs to our process are electricity and carbon gas, using ceramic consumables and calcium chloride - none of which is environmentally detrimental. Metalysis can produce high value mass market materials much more quickly and with the key benefits of an improved sustainability.”
Metalysis has its clear business case and Vaughan admits that the small company based in the UK plans to become a globally dominant company in the field of solid state metal processing.
“We are a technology company, the way to create value is to valorise our intellectual property through partnerships and licences. The way we move forward is ventures into partnerships and joint ventures into sales of our intellectual properties through those licences,” says Vaughan.
It is through partnerships that the company key can become a globally dominant metal processing company. Two key partnerships have been with Iluka Resources, the second producer of global titanium dioxide products and global giant BHP Billiton.
“The involvement of very large branded business evidences the potential of our story, so that’s a big plus in investment terms,” says Vaughan.
“Perhaps equally important is that they have elements of engineering and commercial skills which are synergistic with what we are doing. If a story like ours is as good as we believe it to be then the big companies should be investing and the good news is – they are.”
Through the partnership with Iluka, Metalysis seeks to remove the total number of processing steps in getting a beach sand resource to a value added product that can be used in an engineering environment.
“A process like ours can add considerable value. By implication, whether its logistically or technically, a process like ours can add considerable value. If you’re doing more with less than the process becomes inherently more sustainable and this is attractive to a business because you’re saving money.”
One method of removing those industrial processes is through Metalysis’ answer to the Kroll Process. The Kroll process is a widely used industrial process to produce metallic titanium that has been used since the 1950’s and is an extremely expensive and is very intensive of energy and time.
“In simple terms, Metalysis produces a metal powder directly and it collapses the number of processing steps compared to Kroll, which only produces a semi-finished product. Our process is cheaper, more sustainable and produces an end product far more quickly,” says Vaughan.
Moving forward, for Metalysis to attract new partnerships and investment, it is important that large companies are clear what the business case for the company is.
“The first thing is that we offer a low cost route to producing value added metal products, which of course is extremely interesting to many large players. We are strategically focused on titanium and the production of titanium powder – Iluka resources is the second largest titanium producer so it’s clear where the synergies are there,” he says.
“For the foreseeable procedure, low cost production is the key driving force of engagement for strategic partners. Looking further than that, a process like ours which can operate across the periodic table and put together alloys and combinations of elements that have yet to be produced potentially will create new opportunity areas and change demand patterns for elements and resources that people are just about getting their heads around. Cost reduction of things we know today and things that are new that may drive different forces of demand is the next stage of the Metalysis journey.”
Metalysis is primarily a technology company and technology over the last two decades has become more and more of a major discussion point across all industries. Vaughan believes that this increase of emphasis on technology and innovation, plays directly into Metalysis’ hands.
“Technology didn’t really play the primary role in thinking at the top of resource companies traditionally. In recent years, big and small resource companies are looking more carefully at what technology can do to shift their businesses. Technology is far more at the top of corporate decisions than it was when Metalysis first started out and I think that can only be described as a positive thing.” He says.
“In the not too distant future it’s not hard to imagine boxes like Metalysis which could produce metal powders directly from feed stocks being operated and manned by robots. This is a trend you can already see, particularly with increased automation within the mining industry,”
Metalysis, despite already taking large steps in disrupting the metals production industry, is still in its infancy, but Vaughan promises that this is not the last we will hear.
“In simple terms, Metalysis produces a metal powder directly and it collapses the number of processing steps compared to Kroll, which only produces a semi-finished product. Our process is cheaper, more sustainable and produces an end product far more quickly,”
“Metalysis can be one of the great stories of metallurgical process, we haven’t had the chance to show it yet, but we will. Where we are based in the UK has a history of innovation in steel making and people are always looking for the next big innovation and believe me, Metalysis will be the next one.
“The metals process and industry in the UK is in a dire straight and we believe that we are a great success story to come out of the industry. We are a company that’s going places.”
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Axora: driving safety, sustainability and efficiency
“Axora was conceived to bring collaboration and industrial digital innovation to the next level,” pledges CEO Ritz Steytler. “We spoke with the heads of innovation and the operations leaders of oil & gas and metals & mining organisations. We understand the intense pressure they face to modernise their operations. We’re focused on offering solutions to support mining companies with the three biggest challenges they face: safety, sustainability and efficiency."
Safety, Sustainability & Efficiency
"We can help with everything from discovering the right solutions to solve specific problems, to evaluating physical innovation and then supporting the end to end process for actually getting that technology to deliver business value," continues Steytler. That’s realised through our support of the procurement cycle and helping companies with the deployment and maintenance of their chosen solutions to ensure they continue to deliver value where it’s needed most.”
Axora hosts over 150 innovative solutions from sector leaders to start-ups, universities, and consultancies. Examples include machine vision technology that identifies mineral ore contaminants three times faster than the human eye, and predictive modelling for oil rigs which uses built-in sensors and AI to maximise production. Axora's proven digital solutions help to reduce wasted investment, avoid duplication and accelerate business growth.
The World Economic Forum estimates digitalisation can create value to the tune of $400bn across the coming decade. However, the emergence of ‘digital mines’ isn’t just about the numbers. Digitalisation can transform mining into a far more sustainable enterprise by mitigating some of the big risks the industry faces. A digital mine can optimise operations, unleashing the power of data to understand and implement changes in the business.
With the right solutions it’s possible to effect radical changes in a process that is understood better. Solutions that have been road-tested across the oil and gas industry can deliver real benefits for mining companies, including early adopters like Glencore, explains Axora’s Mining Innovation Director Joe Carr: “Opex Group are using Machine Learning with an AI algorithm to pull in all the available sensor data to monitor a processing plant. Its solutions analyse output and look across all the pumps and motors to offer exact data on where to tweak them down. It’s cloud-based and can monitor, reduce and control operational emissions, optimise energy use and minimise environmental impact. It’s currently being used in the oil and gas industry and it's been shown to save up to 10% of power, but the driver of it was actually Co2.
“If you're running an oil platform, your power is essentially free because you're pumping it out of the ground. But in a mine the biggest power user, outside of the trucks and shovels, is the process plant. It uses around 21 kilowatt hours per tonne of processing power to run, right? Obviously, that's dependent on the plant, but it's a power-hungry situation. Diesel is not cheap, especially in remote locations. Being able to save five to 10% of your power usage for no issue in terms of production could be a big win for mining.”
Carr highlights there is also the real opportunity to significantly reduce Scope 1, Scope 2 and even into Scope 3 emissions where Opex Group’s solutions could be used in a smelter to go for the “low hanging fruit” and cut Co2 emissions. “It's a win-win all around, and yet it's a technology which the mining industry doesn't use today, but it exists in a parallel industry.”
To further reduce emissions, Axora is offering solutions which are involved in the scheduling and optimisation of haul truck fleets. “If your fleet is idling for even 10 minutes a cycle, that is wasted fuel,” notes Carr. “It just goes into the atmosphere. And very rarely do the drivers turn the trucks off because they don't want to be stopping and starting those big engines. The mine may be in an extreme climate so even something as basic as saving idling can contribute towards a company’s net zero targets.” The Axora platform also features a system to manage shipping and logistics. “Are you moving your material in the most effective way in terms of routing for fuel usage and speed?” asks Carr.
“Being able to program those variables in terms of Co2 tonnage produced offers new capabilities. We’re able to help our customers understand what they want to achieve. Scope 1 emissions might be the easiest to impact with the haul fleet. Scope 2 focuses on the processing plant and the downstream movement. Understanding what a mining company’s customers are using its materials for makes Scope 3 more difficult to impact – for iron ore it would be a steel melt…”
To that end, Axora offers a predictive maintenance system for aluminum smelting which Carr notes can reduce downtime by up to 20%. “Aluminum smelting tends to come from hydro which can be very clean – it’s energy intensive,” he explains. “But the same system could easily be applied to steel or copper processes where you don't want to be turning them on and off. You don't want to be running your autoclave in a gold mine with a varying sulfide input because the heat goes up and down and it messes with your recovery and you're using a lot more power to heat and cool your autoclave.”
The Axora Platform
“Challenge us and we will find it for you,” asserts Steytler when explaining how he envisages the Axora platform developing. “We aim to match a technology provider to a particular business buyer, somebody that has a real problem that needs to get solved. They can then collaborate to deploy that technology successfully.” Steytler is positioning Axora beyond the sales and procurement process. “There’s no such thing as on time and on budget with a digital transformation effort, right? It’s a difficult thing to achieve, we’re not talking about shrink-wrapped software. That’s why partnerships are extremely important and we can help facilitate those to deliver the value required.”
Reacting to Trends
Against the backdrop of record years for many mining companies – with copper and gold production and prices on the rise – what trends are the team at Axora seeing across the industry that will necessitate a response from its multi-solution platform? “Despite the uncertainties of the global pandemic, mining companies have taken a practical approach,” notes Carr. “What we’ve seen during the pandemic is that miners have realised they need to embrace the digitisation journey. The past year has proved to be a gateway with younger guys coming through the system ready for change.”
Carr highlights that with Covid, engineers couldn’t simply fly to West Africa or Chile so the door to digitsation opened. Where has he seen the biggest push? “How do we get the data we want and then what do we do with it?” he counters. “Miners have so much data that it's in Excel sheets, and it's got macros, and it's historically stored on a server somewhere that nobody's looked at for five years since it was sent out. Our clients' demands today are more around how do we do something with that data? Because we know the benefits are there. The sensor data around predictive maintenance and all these things exist, but they're having such a struggle to deal with it and deliver meaningful insights.”
However, Carr concedes it's a cyclical business. “If it comes down to buying another truck or buying a data server, what's going to get more tonnes out of the ground? But with the right data we can see what will actually benefit operations in the long term… That push towards digital has seen what we thought would take the next five years actually happen in one year because remote capabilities and enhancement to operations centres have advanced to meet demand. At Axora, we’re seeing mining companies assess solutions to improve health and safety on their sites by reducing members of the workforce exposed to risk and in harm’s way and keen to discover how they can drive efficiencies to make more tonnes for less. Ultimately, it’s part of our job to make it simple in terms of a value calculation.”
“Axora is here to accelerate digital transformation in the mining industry,” asserts Steytler. “We can simplify that process. And with investment in that transformation expected to reach $6.8trn between 2020 and 2023 as the world economy digitizes, there’s never been a better time to realise the benefits.”