Re-mining Mining By-Products: A New Sustainable Source of Metal Raw Materials
Phoenix Tailings' vision is to become the world's first clean metals and mining company, essentially re-mining the waste products of existing mining companies to boost needed supplies of raw materials in a sustainable manner. As co-founder, Anthony Balladon neared the end of his existing visa while studying in Boston so he turned to Legalpad to pursue an O-1 visa. He successfully obtained his O-1 approval in late spring 2021, freeing him to grow and expand Phoenix Tailings.
What's in a Name?
Phoenix Tailings got its name from the technical term that refers to mining waste. "Traditionally, you'll go after one specific material in mining, maybe two," Anthony explained. "For example, in a gold mine, you're going to go after the rock that has the most gold, which may be 0.5% to 1% gold. The rest of that rock, known as ore, that isn't gold is thrown away as tailings."
It's a Win-Win-Win
Phoenix Tailings hopes to revolutionize how the industry sees these tailings by taking a more holistic, philosophical view of mining. "Instead of going after that one material, we want to access the entire value of an ore source by using innovative and proprietary chemical processes that allow us to access the different valuable components within the leftover rock, or the tailings," Anthony said. "And we want to access it economically and sustainably."
Currently, those tailings sit in massive ponds and are frequently a mining company's biggest unreported liability. Phoenix Tailings wants to remove that liability for the mining company, remediate one of the world's biggest hazardous waste products, and recover valuable metals that are in high demand in our continually growing technological world. "We're going to need a huge amount of metal to shift to an electrified economy, whether it's copper, nickel, or rare earths. It will be infinitely more sustainable if we can access that in the material that's already above the ground, rather than going and digging up more," Anthony said. It's a potential win for the mining company, win for the planet, and win for Phoenix Tailings.
A Real Solution to a Growing Problem
When Anthony initially met the folks who would eventually become his co-founders of Phoenix Tailings, he was fascinated by their business perspective. Instead of perfecting a technology in a lab and then attempting to make it commercially viable as he had previously seen in South Africa, Anthony and his co-founders started with the problem, found the best people, and then developed technology to solve the problem.
Current mining companies have been struggling with the growing problem of tailings for years. "We've actually already used up most of the best ore sources," Anthony said. "Each subsequent ore source that we go after decreases in quality, meaning there's going to be increasingly more tailings produced in the future."
"At the same time, we as a society are demanding more materials to build technologies to sustain our daily lives," he continued. "Phoenix Tailings wants to be able to access those materials to meet that demand sustainably while at the same time removing these toxic sludge pools that sometimes can break." For example, a Brazil dam failed in 2019, devastating a community and killing 267 people.
A Weight off Anthony's Shoulders
As with many international students and professionals, Anthony was thinking about the options available to him to remain in the U.S. long term. Anthony was introduced to Legalpad after Phoenix Tailings was accepted to Techstars Boston. "I knew the managing director had referred a few other founders to Legalpad, and they all had fantastic experiences," Anthony said. It was after talking to Legalpad that Anthony realized that he qualified for the O-1 visa. "I had heard about the O-1 visa, but I never looked into it too much. It was one of those things I thought was for sports stars and celebrities, and it didn't apply to me."
After successfully obtaining the O-1, Anthony can now put 100% of his focus on growing Phoenix Tailings. "From a strategic standpoint for the business, the O-1 visa allows us to plan a lot further into the future. It's one less unknown; it's one less risk," Anthony said. "I think most people, who are not familiar with the challenges, underestimate the impact of having an insecure visa status," Anthony reflected. "It's something that you're always thinking about, especially when you've started a business and raised some capital. You're looking to plan three, four, five, six years down the line, but you don't know if you are even going to be able to stay in the country." With the O-1, Anthony no longer needs to worry about that. "That psychological and emotional weight is off my shoulders," he said.