Digital MagazineUpstreamYear 2021

The Clean Solution to our Critical Mineral Supply Problem


There are a couple of dirty little secrets in clean energy. Mining the materials required to build the clean energy transition creates significant pollution in overseas mines and many of these critical materials are also overwhelmingly controlled by China.

megan o’connor – nth cycle

By Megan O’Connor – Nth Cycle

These challenges have put clean energy at a crossroads. The very technologies that will save us—electric vehicles, wind turbines, and processing power— are built on a foundation of rare metals extracted from the earth at great monetary and environmental costs.

As the clean energy transition has accelerated, demand for critical minerals to power the energy transition has grown exponentially. We know that mining deeper and deeper, and building landfills higher and wider, works against our fight to save the planet. We also know that most of these critical minerals are outside of the United States. Other countries, particularly China, currently control the lion’s share of critical minerals required for the clean energy transition.

If we’re not able to solve these challenges, it could derail the growth of clean energy and undercut many of its benefits.

I see these challenges as an opportunity.

To create the world we want to see –a world that is cleaner, greener, more efficient, and more equitable– we need our industries to also be cleaner, greener, more efficient, and more equitable.

How? New technologies, arriving today, that help us capture the materials needed for the energy transition from electronics waste and cleaner, more efficient mines. In fact, I believe that all the critical minerals needed for the clean energy transition are already in circulation domestically or could be safely mined here in North America.

We just didn’t have a clean, profitable way of retrieving them, until now.

We can make the materials recovery processes more sustainable while improving profits at the same time. The tools required to cleanly mine cobalt, nickel, and manganese exist today. The technologies needed to breakdown old cell phones, magnets, and electric vehicles into their component parts exists today. But, the processes that transform them into production-grade critical minerals for new manufacturing are old, dirty, and expensive.

At my company, Nth Cycle, we’ve put our minds and hearts into solving this problem. We’ve developed new technology that supports battery recyclers and miners. We call it electro-extraction, an alternative to hydrometallurgy and pyrometallurgy. Rather than using large, greenhouse gas-emitting furnaces or harsh chemicals to process metals, our technology uses only electricity. The technology can also transform the outputs of electronics recycling, and waste from existing mines, into high-quality critical minerals ready to be used again. No more hot, dirty furnaces; no harsh chemical waste.

Electro-extraction is clean, customizable, and consistent.

Using very little electricity (which can be generated from 100% clean renewable power) electro- extraction reduces 75 percent of the greenhouse gases currently emitted during the recovery of production-grade critical minerals. The technology’s closed-loop chemical process is truly circular. Our system’s small footprint also reduces the need for additional balance of system components and avoids new environmental permits.

In transforming our lives and economies, the technologies we harness must be as clean and sustainable as the world we imagine. At Nth Cycle, we’ve created the tools to make that future possible today.

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