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Precious mettle

open this image in new window: Zincovery

This article was published on 30 June 2020

Zincovery CEO Jonathan Ring shares an insight into the Christchurch-based startup’s journey so far with C-Prize 2019 – Callaghan Innovation’s competition looking for world-leading innovative solutions to environmental problems.

It’s one thing to have great tech; it’s another to turn that into a great business. 

That’s a key lesson we at the Zincovery team have learnt so far on our journey as finalists in C-Prize 2019.

We put our hands up for the C-Prize competition because we believe we have an innovative solution that not only deals with waste, but recovers a valuable resource. 

So what exactly does Zincovery do?

Zincovery’s technology is designed to tackle the problem of the hundreds of thousands of tonnes of zinc and acid released into landfill and wastewater every year through the steel galvanising process. 

Before steel is galvanised, it is cleaned in acid, but this acid bath eventually becomes ineffective due to an accumulation of dissolved metals. Discarding this spent acid adds a large cost to the galvanizing process and impacts the environment. The waste acid also contains a lot of valuable zinc, however this is normally very difficult to separate. 

Concerned about this waste being dumped – not only causing environmental damage but also wasting of a valuable resource – Zincovery has developed a process to efficiently and economically recover the zinc and regenerate the acid. 

The technology was developed out of my Master’s project, overseen by my fellow team mate Aaron Marshall – a UC Associate Professor of Engineering. Together we recruited Thomas Hughes, the third member of our team, to help us build our pilot plant. 

This is where we aim to recycle the industry’s spent acid and zinc for reuse within the galvanizing industry – and offer the service at a cost less than traditional disposal services.

Our C-Prize journey

The biggest challenge we’ve had to navigate during the C-Prize competition phase, however, has been establishing a pathway to develop our tech so it’s suitable for the galvanising sector. 

This industry has seen many try and fail in this area before, so it’s crucial we build industry credibility. And we need to do this both with our tech and our business model.

Our key objective, therefore, is to complete our pilot plant. This is to prove our process works and is economically feasible at a commercial scale. 

Another objective is to develop a broader business mindset and capability. Although this has been a focus of mine, as CEO, over the past year or so, our team is still generally very tech focused. The C-Prize journey, however, has allowed the whole team to see what’s required to build a successful business around our tech. 

External perspectives and support have been key with this. Sharing the C-Prize journey with other teams has been interesting and useful, as it helps us see different approaches to challenges. 

Having the external support, expertise and encouragement of a mentor throughout the challenge has also been great. We don't know what we don't know, and having others steer us or challenge us on our assumptions is really valuable. Just having another set of eyes before sending off information to potential investors and customers is so useful.

What’s next for us?

COVID-19 has certainly created further challenges – putting our tech development on hold for more than five weeks and making accessing time with key industry contacts more difficult as they face their own business challenges.

But our aim is to complete our pilot plant mid-2020 and raise capital to develop the first New Zealand commercial plant during 2021. 

Zincovery believes we can make New Zealand the first country to have a zero-waste galvanizing industry. From there, the plan is to expand into Australia –  then on to further international markets. Watch this space.

We’ll be sharing journey blogs from our C-Prize finalist teams in the lead up to the announcement of the 2019/20 C-Prize supreme winner.

Please note - With the recent move to place Auckland in COVID-19 Alert Level 3 and the rest of New Zealand in Alert Level 2 from 12 August, we have had to postpone the final C-Prize award evening scheduled for Friday 14 August.  As the situation is still developing we are still considering how best to deliver the final judging and awards event. We will update as soon as we have more information to share. #CPrize2019