Why we’re backing Zincovery for zinc recycling without coal

We’ve just made our fourth investment – in Christchurch-based Zincovery. The Climate VC Fund has joined Icehouse Ventures and Outset in a NZ$3m seed round to rapidly accelerate Zincovery’s coal-busting tech.

Zincovery is building an alternative to the carbon-intensive zinc recycling process. It has been on our radar since it spun out of the University of Canterbury and received early-stage support from KiwiNet. Indeed, that success was recognised by KiwiNet this month, awarding Breakthrough Innovator Award to Jonathan Ring, Zincovery’s founder and CEO.  

The journey of Zincovery from a research product to a funded start-up shows New Zealand’s innovation ecosystem is working well and we are happy that Zincovery has now reached the stage where we can contribute to their ongoing growth.

Why zinc? 

Zinc is the fourth-most used metal and is an essential resource in renewable energy, vehicles, infrastructure. Its main use is protecting steel, and manufacturing bronze and brass. Recycling zinc is critical for preserving this resource for future generations. 

However recycling zinc comes with a high emissions cost. A major source of zinc is zinc dust derived from recycled galvanised steel. Unlike most recycled metals, recycled zinc has a larger carbon impact than if it was mined – the current best process for this recycling needs coal and high temperatures.  

Zincovery technology works at much lower temperatures and can be powered entirely by renewable electricity – no coal needed.  

We know that coal must die, and the sooner the better. Zincovery’s new technology hits the perfect combination of both lower costs and lower emissions. The emissions savings per tonne of furnace dust looks substantial. The simply huge tonnage of furnace dust produced per year means that the overall savings should be vast. 

Tough journey

The journey to get to this point was not easy and is told in a fulsome article by Newsroom. As Jonathan points out:

It’s been a tough four years. The first iteration – technology to remove zinc from scrap galzanised steel – won the prestigious Callaghan Innovation C-Prize and raised $1.2 million in seed funding. But a market study showed it wasn’t going to work financially.

But a pivot during Covid and a lot of hard work have changed the economics for Zincovery and the business is now looking at huge potential for growth – and attracted investors like us.

We’re thrilled to be on the journey – tough as it is!