The rising number of electric vehicles in both the consumer and industrial sectors means electric vehicle battery companies are going to need an increasing amount of valuable metals. Geologists Rob Bergmann and Brian Lentz think they have found an answer by extracting cobalt, copper and nickel from industrial waste streams.
The Minneapolis-based geologists that own Big Rock Exploration and several mining-related firms have formed a developmental stage company called Exsolve Recycling Technologies to mine the industrial waste for the short-in-supply metals.
Bergmann and Lentz note that the majority of industrial waste is exported, primarily to China. Valuable commodities are then extracted there and sold back to U.S. entities at market rates.
Bergmann and Lentz view that process as a lost economic opportunity for the U.S. and a business opportunity for them. Recognition of that problem was the genesis of Exsolve, years before they officially started the company in 2017. Their new company is also part of a relatively new segment of the recycling industry.
"Here in the U.S. at least, there doesn't seem to be anyone tapping into these waste streams with the approach that we are in recycling them and getting the value metals out," Lentz said. "The more we look the more we are finding."
Bergmann and Lentz are partnering with Bill Fisher of National Research Co., whose facility in Michigan has been reclaiming industrial diamonds from similar waste. Over the years, National Research has tweaked its process to also reclaim valuable metals.
At the fully permitted and zero-emissions facility, the two companies already have done bench scale tests to prove their proprietary process works. They also have secured a supply of industrial waste, are getting ready for a pilot study and have broken ground on a 15,000-square-foot expansion to the plant in Michigan.
Bergmann and Lentz had a good year with Big Rock Exploration, though there were pandemic-caused limitations, including the closed Canadian border, that limited some of their field work. They also had a short shutdown due to stay-at-home orders.
The slower pace in 2020 allowed them to focus on the development of some related companies, among them Exsolve.
"The pause in business was a blessing in disguise for Brian and I to recalculate and really amplify a lot of these other things that are ready to be put out into the market," Bergmann said. "We were successful in getting three new entities basically rolling."