Startups present solutions at MinerALL Challenge Demoday 


On Wednesday (14), Mining Hub hosted Demoday of the acceleration and pre-escalation stage of the MinerALL Challenge, an open innovation project carried out by corporate accelerator Neo Ventures, Samarco and Escalab, a scaling technology center, with support from the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG), the Federal University of Ouro Preto (UFOP), the Center for Development of Nuclear Technology (CDTN) and INCT Midas. The purpose of this first edition was to turn tailings reprocessing technologies into ventures. 

Alessandra Prata, expert engineer and leader of the MinerALL Challenge at Samarco, kicked off the presentations by the qualified startups and invited Yule Mares from Neo Ventures and Maria Duarte from Escalab to recap the trajectory of this initiative, which began in September 2018 with 414 enrollments and 17 technologies. After many hours of mentoring, training, feasibility studies and business modeling, four startups made it to the presentation phase: EcoMud, Element, GMTech and Reuse. 

The event was attended by the mayor of Ouro Preto, Julio de Araujo, the mayor of Mariana, Duarte Junior, and Felipe Guerra, representative of the municipality of Santa Barbara. 

In common, the reuse of tailings 

All participants presented solutions based on the reuse of inert and non-hazardous class II B tailings (sandy and mud), by-products from iron ore beneficiation. 

Aiming to keep the roads in good condition – controlling dust and eliminating any existing potholes – while preserving the natural look of the soil, EcoMud proposed a low-cost solution that uses the mud as a raw material for high-durability paving. 

Next, Element presented a solution aimed at the ferrosilicon market. Made from Samarco’s sandy tailings, the startup has come up with a briquette – dense and compact block – of tailings and additives, which besides a reduction of raw material costs will promote a reduction in energy consumption in the production of ferro-silicon used in the manufacture of special steels. 

After that, GMTech presented to the innovation ecosystem and entrepreneurs present, the concept of its geopolymeric mortar, which uses 50% of sandy tailings in its composition and can be applied to reinforce and repair structures in civil construction. 

Lastly, Reuse emphasized the importance of expanding the production of foundry sand in Minas Gerais, given the impact of freight cost on the price of this material. Benefited from Samarco’s sandy tailings, the product would be an economical alternative for local industry. 

The startups are currently scaling and consolidating their business models, but multiple entities, municipalities and companies have already shown purchase intention, besides the agreements in place with Samarco. 

MinerALL Complex: Industrial Symbiosis and Shared Value 

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Considering the interests and points in common presented by the teams, a proposal of a synergy emerged: the MinerALL Complex initiative, a local productive arrangement aimed at sharing human and material resources, optimizing logistics and energy use, and fostering the development and exchange of knowledge and experience between the ventures. In the first year of operation alone, EcoMud, Element, GMTech and Reuse would be able to reuse 600,000 tons of tailings. 

In addition, the Complex will constitute a network of intellectual and institutional capital with the purpose of establishing relationships with the communities of Ouro Preto, Mariana, Congonhas and Itabirito, encouraging local entrepreneurship and a culture of innovation to create solutions to common problems, generating value to the mining territories. 

Final Learning 

Giving up or changing direction? For two of the participating startups, given the limitations that emerged on the way, the path taken was to rethink the product, the market, the strategy, but without losing interest in reusing the tailings, generating ventures that share value with society. In GMTech’s case, it took two turning points – business strategy changes – to get the team to find their niche within the construction market. 

Whereas Element had to resort to metallurgy specialists when its team decided to change the product. 

Here you can find out more about the MinerALL Challenge, Mining Hub and Samarco’s alternatives for the use of iron ore tailings.