Natural Resources Roundup – April 2017

Natural Resources Roundup – April 2017

By Kyle Gracey

April showers bring May flowers and a host of new natural resources technologies. This month, we look at cash prizes for disruptive mining technology, smarter circuit breakers and ocean plastics that are given new life as diesel fuel. Have a technology you think we should highlight? Contact me at

Mining & Metals: #DisruptMining Awards $1 Million for Innovations

World Economic Forum research suggests that the mining industry is one of the slowest industries to respond to disruptive change. Integra Gold of Canada hopes to help change that with its #DisruptMining competition.

The contest solicited a wide range of technology solutions to address mining’s biggest challenges. Nearly 150 entrants submitted ideas. These were whittled down to five finalists who pitched their ideas in a live “Shark Tank” style event.

One of the two winning companies, Kore, proposed a set of instruments built into mining drills to collect real-time geologic data as it bored through the earth. Currently, much of this information is collected by geologists after the drilling. Other data may not be collected at all.

The most exciting part of these competitions may not be the individual technologies, however. Instead, it’s the potential to combine multiple technologies from different submissions to create disruptive, instead of just iterative, innovations. As the organizers comb through the other submissions, expect more ideas to emerge.

Advanced Energy: Smarter Circuit Breakers

The average home circuit breaker hasn’t evolved much since they replaced fuse boxes in the 20th century. Now, the “smart” revolution has finally reaches this neglected appliance.

Eaton and the Electric Power Research Institute have begun to test a new model of Eaton’s circuit breakers. The tests will determine if the breakers can accurately and quickly perform functions like sharing and recording electricity usage data, managing solar panels and electric vehicle charging, and communicating with other smart home devices.

Each breaker can communicate via WiFi. This could allow utilities, building managers and homeowners to manage electricity loads at the level of a single circuit instead of just at each meter. This could provide for higher resolution power and loading management during periods of high demand or in disasters.

Fossil Fuels: Turning Ocean Plastics Into Diesel

An estimated 269,000 tons of plastic are floating in the world’s oceans. Soon, a little bit of this will transform into diesel fuel. The technology, developed by a sailor and an organic chemist, and marketed by their company, EcoFuel Technologies, builds new materials onto a familiar chemical process.

Pyrolysis is a well known way of turning certain plastics into fossil fuels. Like crude oil, however, the fuels have to be refined to create products like diesel. This costs more than refining regular diesel fuel. EcoFuel Technologies adds a new catalyst to the pyrolysis process. This catalyst allows them to create diesel fuel without further refining.

The technology works with small processing units to maximize portability, since plastic waste is spread over a large area of the ocean. The units can fit into a standard shipping container, but process up to 1,000 pounds of plastic per hour. By driving down cost, the researchers hope to offer diesel at a competitive price, creating a market for ocean plastic as a fossil fuel feedstock.

EcoFuel Technologies has only prototyped its product, so don’t expect to see it on beaches or out at sea just yet. But one day, we may be fueling our trucks instead of polluting our oceans.

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