Magpie Polymers mines for gold in toxic water

Nov 13, 2012
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Logo Magpie PolymersCEO of Magpie Polymers, Steven van Zutphen, is the first to admit it’s an unusual place to look for gold – water, and then hastens to mention it’s not just gold, but a lot of metals, including the Platinum Group Metals – Platinum, Palladium and Rhodium.

The chemical process behind that, to which he’s one of the three patent holders, involves resins of various kinds, and he quickly gives up explaining the process when he realizes your correspondent does not have a degree in chemistry.

Why would anyone extract metals from water?

Well, in the case of gold, you’d think it’s obvious, but it wasn’t economically viable until recently, as the process is not without cost. But through diligent research the cost of the process have been brought down, and the recent rise in price of precious metals has also been tremendously helpful to them.

In addition to extracting metals for financial gain, it can also be done to reduce toxicity of waste water – mines are infamous polluters of large quantities of water, for instance, but lots of industrial processes produce toxins that have to be captured with modern environmental legislation. So Magpie Polymers’ potential market is quite big, and growing all the time.

Rare earth metals – rare indeed

Another potential future use of their technology is as a source of ‘rare earth metals’ – the exotic metals only extracted in one country in the world currently (China) that are critical for producing most modern electronics, including mobile phones, computers, tablets and solar panels. Quite a resource to have a monopoly on! China duly abused this monopoly last year, when they stopped all exports briefly, prompting the major powers of the world to look for alternative sources of rare earths. Magpie Polymers may be a part of the solution to the problem one day.

Funded by the surprisingly low first and second rounds – respectively €100k and €500k, by private angels and the fund ‘Fonds Lorraine des Materiaux’ – a regional outfit that promotes job creation, they are off to the races – with a first client signing on in recent weeks! The plan is to generate one million euros in revenue in 2013, an ambitious goal.

Magpie Polymer’s history

The history is that co-founder Steven van Zutphen, as a researcher at the Polytechnique school here in France, created the chemical process with two other researchers. He then got a job and did exactly nothing with it, until he met co-founder Etienne Almoric working at a chemical company. When they were offered a Sauvegarde d’emploi (a French concept – an employer pays an employee to quit, to avoid ‘firing’). With a nice bundle of cash, both men found themselves in the perfect position to realize their dream – to start their own company!

Magpie Polymers also dreams big – international expansion, scaling up fabrication of the unique resins, and innovative business models, such as buying up batches of water themselves and making money from the extracted resources.