Kiwi company turning waste into wealth

Waste heaps such as this one at the Belaruskali potash mines in Belarus could soon turn into profit for a New Zealand company (Reuters)
Waste heaps such as this one at the Belaruskali potash mines in Belarus could soon turn into profit for a New Zealand company (Reuters)

Mountains of slag all over the world are a Kiwi company's idea of great riches.

The waste from mines is dumped into mounds so big that they can generate their own weather patterns -- but New Zealand company Avertana says they can each be worth half a billion dollars.

Avertana is a start-up company that has received a kickstart from a new fund set up by The Icehouse innovation hub and its investors ICE Angels.

The "Tuhua" fund has raised $10 million dollars to target 25 Kiwi start-up companies.

ICE Angels CEO Robbie Paul says the idea is to be a game changer.

"The team, as well as the hundreds of investors that have invested with us into 97 kiwi start-ups, have a burning and genuine desire to drive New Zealand forward by empowering globally competitive start-ups," Mr Paul said.

"Capital is not the only ingredient required to do so. However, this $10 million fund is a potent addition to our expertise and world-class networks."

Avertana Managing Director Sean Molloy says funds like Tuhua are to get to the next level.

"Having sophisticated funds in New Zealand as a launch pad to help you go global is essential," he said.

Avertana has developed a process that takes the slag produced in mining and turns it into minerals and chemicals used in every day products.

It can produce titanium dioxide which is used as the white tint in paint. It also produces gypsum, which is used in building materials like wall boards; aluminium sulphate, which can is used as a product to make clean water; and magnesium sulphate, which is a fertiliser for dairy cows.

Mr Molloy says the company was inspired by the work of another Kiwi start-up called Lanzatech. It developed a process that converts waste gases from steel mills into low carbon fuels like ethanol.

Lanzatech has set up plants in China and the United States and moved it's headquarters from Auckland to Chicago.

It's hoped that the Tuhua fund will find the next Lanzatech. Mr Paul says the fund takes it's name from the Maori name for obsidian, which is a volcanic glass and was prized as a tool used for hunting in New Zealand.

"The analogy of providing entrepreneurs with 'tools for the hunt' aligns with the Tuhua mission," he said.

"The visualisation of 'unpolished gems' is also appropriate -- $4 million of the $10 million will be invested into seed stage start-ups that are still rough around the edges."