“Surely we can change the way we deal with waste”

“If we can change the way we mine, surely we can change the way we deal with waste”

Zenia Tata, Chief Impact Officer of XPRIZE, ensures that while some entrepreneurs are already looking at the space searching for the next mineral-rich source, the way the industry thinks about waste also needs to be very future forward. On the verge of launching a new global contest under the name of “Zero-Waste Mining Challenge”, this expert in innovation calls to a “moonshot thinking” to combat Climate Change.

Since its creation in 1994, XPRIZE – the global platform of disruptive innovation started by Singularity University´s co-founder Peter Diamandis – has designed and launched seventeen prizes in several domain areas, like space conquest, oceans’ protection, learning, health, energy, environment, transportation, safety and also robotics. Now for the first time, XPRIZE is looking directly into the Mining sector. The way to do it is not shy, but very bold: starting a global challenge to find the ultimate solution for a waste-free mining industry.

XPRIZE is an innovator accelerator, but we use a very different model to find disruptive or breakthrough innovations that can change the world. What we do is that we put up large innovation competitions to effectively trying to materialize a future state, something that will occur maybe in 10 or 20 years, but that we are trying to make it happen today”, explained Ms. Tata, minutes before presenting at the Third International Seminar of Mining and Sustainability. Tailings: challenges and trends”, an event that took place 11th of April in the context of Cesco Week.

Cesco spoked to Zenia Tata about this new initiative, the importance of thinking outside the box to transform the mining sector and the need for radical innovation to fight Climate Change.

Why did you bring your business model to Chile?

We did not bring our business model to Chile, but Chile brought us! There were some of the people in the Chilean National Innovation Council, about three years ago, that contacted us to see if there was a way to do mining with no waste.

What do you expect to achieve with this global innovation competition?    

We expect to achieve a whole amount of new solutions and new solvers to come together to fix this problem once and for all, we hope to transform this industry and it is our great pleasure to know that the industry itself has brought us here, the industry itself has requested a disruption, a transformation, because it recognizes the big existential crisis that our planet and our people are facing, and they know that business, as usual, cannot go on. The ideal state would be to eliminate any waste from land, water, and air through the process of mining, which means through the process of exploration, extraction, processing, etc. However, we are trying to see if there is a way we can, in some cases, eliminate the waste and, in some cases, radically reduce the waste, and in other cases, transform the waste.

Why is it important for humanity the “moonshot thinking” like Zero-Waste Mining?

We are in an inflection point as humanity in our planet, with our environment. In fact, we have exceeded the tipping point; now, if we don’t act today to clean up our environment, the degradation is going to happen really fast. We are now on the downward slope of degradation, that puts humanity in an existential crisis.  The science is indisputable; there have been reports after reports in almost every sector, every domain, that tells us that climate change is accelerating, and is here to stay at least we do something to reverse it.

Who can participate in the challenge?

Anyone, anybody with an idea. This will be a highly technical challenge, so there will be a need for some science, technology, engineering skills. However, you can put a team together, bring in certain required knowledge and apply for this challenge. The idea is that anybody, anywhere, can solve some of the biggest problems we are facing on the planet today.

What is the prize?

We are in the design phase of the prize, and tomorrow (April 12th) we are hosting a 5-hour workshop to start to design some of the technical parameters to understand exactly what this prize will be, so right now I am not able to reveal that, but it will be ready within the next two months.

According to your experience, what are the main obstacles for radical innovation in mining?

These are usually the same in every sector, so the mining sector is not that different. First, people only look inwards to find the solution! You need to look outwards, you need to look at other industries, you must open your mind to new ideas and new innovations. The second issue is for the mining sector; this is a huge investment, mining is not a fun hobby you do on the side, so the investments are of billions of dollars, they have many shareholders and they have to ensure profitability. So, the balance between radical innovation to test new untested ideas with the amount of expenditure they have, the budgets that they have, and what the shareholders are expecting…they have to balance all of those things. The problem is a lot of people have a myth or a misunderstanding in their head about innovation; they think this kind of radical innovation is fun, is creative, is crazy, is not meant for the serious engineers, is meant for the people in Silicon Valley and in California, right? However, they are wrong. Real innovation leads to transformation and any kind of breakthrough transformation takes a huge amount of discipline, it has to be rooted in hard science, in deep research and factual engineering.

What type of challenges had you had in the trajectory of Xprize? Can you comment on any results or achievements?

Many, most of the XPRIZE challenges are highly technical and all of the XPRIZE is the same. We have launched now multiple-space competitions, we have a moon landing competition that requires highly technical skills, a lot of aerospace engineering. We are also running right now a Carbon XPRIZE to remove carbon from coal-fired plants and from natural gas plants because when you are making electricity from coal or natural gas, there are lots of carbon emissions, and this Co2 is one of the biggest causes for Climate Change. So we have a prize right now that is capturing 100% from all the emissions and transforming that emission into products of some value for the market: building materials, clothing, shoes, even we have a team that is making vodka out of carbon. We are now in the final of the competition with 10 finalists and we are hoping to have the validation and a winner by the end of this year or early next year.

Is there any relationship between the Carbon XPRIZE and Zero-Waste Mining?

The big analogy with the Carbon XPRIZE here – and we are designing the Second Carbon Prize to remove the carbon dioxide from the air and from our oceans – is that carbon is also a waste product, and waste in our world has not worth, no value. But, the minute we start placing value, hard currency value, we will start thinking in a different way; we will change the mindset and no longer say waste is something to through away. On the other hand, can we mine without generating waste? Let’s be honest: we are going to the moon, we are going to Mars, we are looking at mining on asteroids… do you think we are going to carry our heavy machinery out there? Do you think we will be using the kind of energy, electricity, and water that we use in mining here? Impossible! We will have to do it completely differently. So if we can change the way we mine, surely we can change the way we deal with waste, or completely eliminate waste.  

Download Zenia Tata presentation – Cesco Week Santiago 2019