Oliver Gunasekara, CEO and co-founder of Impossible Mining, recently met with me to share a bit about the company and what inspires it to engage in critical metals, EV-friendly materials and the mining industry. This is part of our interview. In this section we discuss:
- Rediscovering the Mining Industry
- Inspired by the worst forest fires of 2020
- Transforming Supply Chain Challenges
Rediscovering the Mining Industry
Oliver told me that impossible mining is a start to rediscovering the mining industry with a special focus on battery metals. He noted that moving away from fossil fuels requires larger and larger amounts of battery metals such as nickel and cobalt.
“What we are trying to do in the impossible mine is to provide these materials, but to do it more responsibly than has historically been done by the mining industry. When we think about the resources we are pursuing and how we actually extracted the resources and what we left behind, they really focus on the ESG as the main driver. ”
ESG is an acronym for “environmental, social, and management,” a hot topic recently when Tesla CEO Elon Musk criticized ESG-backed investments and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) began investigating potential green fuel leaching. industry. This happened after Tesla was excluded from the S&P 500 ESG Index and Exxon and other oil companies were included in the index. The SEC wants more transparency for indices. You can read more about it here. Oliver’s main point is to make the impossible mining environmentally and socially responsible.
Inspired by the worst forest fires of 2020
One thing I always want to know is the inspiration behind a company or project. This is the heart of the matter, pushing someone to do something. I asked Oliver what inspired him to become a miner and what problems he wanted to solve. Oliver told me that impossible mining focuses on the extraction and processing of the seabed, which is responsible for ensuring the transition from fossil fuels to sustainable energy.
Impossible Mining is actually the third company founded and run by Oliver. Oliver told me that he was inspired by the worst forest fires that occurred immediately after selling his last company.
“I live in the Gulf region of San Jose, and I think that in September 2020, the worst forest fires I have ever experienced occurred. The sky is painted orange and I know it’s well documented. The air quality was terrible. And then I really said to myself that if I want to work with another company – another startup, it must be in the space of climate technology, because I really feel that we do not have much time. to influence the climate crisis.
“I also believe that innovative technology is really how we can solve some of these big challenges. So it was really a creation. From then on, I started researching. I sold the last company about a year ago and tried to think about what to do.
“After researching and reading as much as I could, I came to the conclusion that batteries are the most important component of our electrification, and therefore, of course, away from residual fuels. In electric cars, it is a source of energy, but also for renewable energy such as solar and wind. You need this energy when the wind is not blowing or the sun is not shining. Energy storage in the form of batteries is becoming critical. And I came to the conclusion that there are some real problems around the supply chain of components, the metals that make up these batteries.
Transforming Supply Chain Challenges
Supply chain constraints have proven to be difficult for all industries, including climate technology. While other carmakers struggled, Tesla gave the news to get rid of these restrictions. I asked Oliver what he could do to solve these problems. After all, innovation is often born from solving a problem and not only solving it, but also turning it into a solution.
Looking at the existing supply chain for battery metals, Oliver noted that there are three main problems.
“The first was that we didn’t have enough material. With mining, you first go to the most profitable mining. This means high prices and easy access. 50-100 years ago we were able to get nickel rates of 1-2%. And they were not too far away. The mine had good infrastructure – a train line or a highway. But these days, all of these substances are already mined, so mining companies are forced to move to lower levels. In fact, the United States is trying to allow a number of mines with about 0.2% nickel.
He explained that mining companies have to dig more at lower prices, which affects the economy as well as the environment. It was just one of the problems.
“Most of our land was depleted, and we had to go and build a lot of infrastructure to get it,” he said. It also happens that these mines are far away. That’s why you have to go and invest in a highway or a village to support it. ”
ESG also poses another challenge – the relocation of people, especially Indigenous peoples, to access and build mines.
“One of the problems that mining is almost never talked about is that you almost always have to relocate people,” he said. You have to build a village, a highway, and often people live there. So you often relocate people, often by force, often through the courts, and often by Indigenous people. And this is really unfortunate. And this leads to delays. In the West, the average time to allow a mine can be between 12 and 15 years, because you have to force people out. He goes to court, then goes to court and it takes a long time. “
According to Oliver, the second problem is mining and delivery of material without a large ESG trace.
“Destroying the environment, forcibly relocating people, what about waste?” Often with a mine, you really have to use a lot of chemicals for processing – a lot of acids. After digging the ore, you have to remove the metal from the ore, and this often involves the use of acid. And this acid, unfortunately, does not break down. It is usually a dam in a place called waste dumps.
“And these landfills are failing because they are not managed properly, and every year several people die in a disaster at the landfill. In fact, more than 280 people died in Brazil a few years ago as a result of the failure of a landfill. This is the second problem. How can we get this metal without destroying the environment and people? We are trying to do the same. “
The third major challenge Oliver faces in Impossible Mining is competition with China, which plays the game smartly. China provides loans to countries such as Indonesia and African countries where these metals are abundant. And in return for these loans, China receives material for the next 10-20 years.
“And this means that if we want to build batteries, we will probably have to buy this material from China. And this is not much different from Europe’s dependence on Russian oil. In my opinion, from a strategic point of view, this is not a good solution for us. “
Stay tuned for Part 2.
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