Gates invests $12M in 'pulsed-power' technology

Pulsed-power technology company I-ROX SAS, which is developing more energy-efficient methods to shatter rocks and mineral ores, has received €12 million (US$12.3 million) in funding from the Bill Gates-backed Breakthrough Energy Ventures-Europe (BEV-E).
Gates invests $12M in 'pulsed-power' technology Gates invests $12M in 'pulsed-power' technology Gates invests $12M in 'pulsed-power' technology Gates invests $12M in 'pulsed-power' technology Gates invests $12M in 'pulsed-power' technology

A fisheye lens of the Z machine at Sandia National Laboratory. Credit: ENERGY.GOV

I-ROX is a collaborative effort between BEV-E and I-Pulse. I-Pulse, a private American company, is a global leader and developer of pulsed-power technology with its research facilities based in Toulouse, France. 

Pulsed-power is a technology that releases the power equivalent to the output of a nuclear reactor in a millionth of a second. The technology has already found commercial application in high-speed metal forming and welding, and in mineral exploration.

I-ROX seeks to demonstrate that short, high intensity bursts of energy delivered using pulsed-power technology can quickly and efficiently shatter rocks and mineral ores.

I-ROX says the pulsed power applications its developing could reduce the substantial time, energy usage and carbon emissions currently generated from mineral exploration. At present, comminution of rock and mineral ores is completed through mechanical crushing and grinding, whereby the material is reduced to progressively smaller sizes for processing. This crushing and grinding process is the single most energy-intensive and expensive aspect of the entire mining process - estimated to use approximately 4% of all electrical energy globally, which is more than half a typical mine's power usage.

The technology under development by I-ROX is set to demonstrate that it can replace several stages within the grinding process and thereby decrease power usage to the levels miners require as they strive to achieve their carbon reduction and neutrality targets.

BEV-E's investment validates I-ROX's approach to drive particle size reduction for a whole range of industries, particularly mining and raw materials processing, with the goal of advancing the technology to commercial scale applications.

I-ROX also announces that Dr. Mahadevan Krishnan will serve as its Head of Technology and Innovation. Dr. Krishnan is a plasma physicist who has extensive experience with pulsed power, having contributed to the building and operation of a multi-terawatt (trillion watt) flash x-ray and other generators for the United States Defense Department. The development team he leads at I-ROX brings together pulsed-power engineers, mineralogists and theoretical experts who have the collective goal of demonstrating and commercializing the promise of pulsed power to the comminution of rocks and ore in mining operations worldwide.

I-Pulse Chairman Robert Friedland commented, "Over 4% of global energy consumption is used to crush and grind rocks and we believe I-ROX can significantly lower this energy requirement. This energy usage is a tremendous cost in both money and carbon emissions. For the mining industry to move to carbon neutrality and beyond, it has to re-invent the entire mining process, and especially how it generates and consumes energy. A significant element needed to meet that goal is to reduce energy consumption in the grinding and crushing circuit that represents over half of the total energy usage of a mine. I-ROX's application of pulse power technology holds the potential to achieve exactly that while also being far cheaper and faster than today's conventional grinding processes."

"Minerals such as copper, nickel and cobalt are essential for the energy transition," said Carmichael Roberts of Breakthrough Energy Ventures. "In I-ROX, we see a rare opportunity to dramatically reduce the energy demand related to the actual processing of such mineral ores. The company's technology, led by a deep and experienced team, offers a low energy solution that should help reduce any green premium around these materials and ultimately help the world achieve its broader climate objectives." 

Dr. Krishnan commented, "Our proposed disruptive pulsed-power comminution solution aims to drastically reduce electricity consumption and carbon emissions, paving the way for tomorrow's new mines."