Silicon Valley is trying to clean up the mining industry with technology


In a remote stretch of southwest Greenland, against the backdrop of dramatic snow-capped mountains and clear blue skies, there is a mining project roughly the size of Luxembourg.

With its huge nickel, copper and cobalt deposits, the Disko-Nuussuaq project has been attracting prospectors for 30 years. But now, more than ever, it looks like it could be developed – with a little help from Silicon Valley.

Billionaire tech investors like Bill Gates are pumping money into new, cleaner ways to extract and process raw materials, and applaud an industry that is sometimes viewed as dirty and slow.

Bluejay, the London-listed minnow behind the project, has reached an agreement with San Francisco-based data specialist KoBold Metals to explore and develop the Greenland deposit.

KoBold uses sophisticated computers to analyze geological data and determine where the best deposits are likely – a big boost for the mining industry, which is used to blowing millions into empty holes in the ground.

“Basically, if you sit at a roulette table and count cards, the odds are in your favor,” said Rod McIllree, Executive Chairman of Bluejay.

With its macho, slow-moving image, mining hasn’t always been an obvious bedfellow for Silicon Valley and other high-tech corporations. However, that is beginning to change. Tighter policies and attitudes towards climate change mean that reducing carbon emissions is no longer optional.

KoBold is part of a growing group of companies developing technologies that help the mining and metals industries become cleaner and more efficient. Some of the best tech minds have begun to turn their attention to the core industries of key global challenges, aided by a growing flow of money from investors.

“The world is a huge manufacturing base based on a very small primary use of primary resources,” says McIllree. “Using big data and cracking numbers – I am in a way surprised that it took so long.”

The constant supply of copper, cobalt and nickel for car batteries and electrical wiring has to be found and excavated by the mining sector. Key KoBold Metals backers include Breakthrough Energy Ventures (BEV), an energy and climate fund founded in 2016 by Microsoft’s Bill Gates and backed by a number of other billionaires, including Amazon’s Jeff Bezos.

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