Silicon Valley tries to clean up mining industry with technology

In a remote expanse of southwest Greenland, against a backdrop of dramatic snow-capped mountains and austere blue skies, lies a mining project roughly the size of Luxembourg.

With its vast reserves of nickel, copper and cobalt, the Disko-Nuussuaq project has attracted prospectors for 30 years. But now it looks more likely than ever to be developed – with a little help from Silicon Valley.

Billionaire tech investors like Bill Gates are pumping money to find new, cleaner ways to mine and process raw materials, embracing an industry sometimes seen as dirty and slow to change.

Bluejay, the London-listed mining minnow behind the project, has reached an agreement with San Francisco-based data specialist KoBold Metals to explore and develop the Greenland deposit.

KoBold uses highly sophisticated computing to analyze geological data and determine where the best deposits are probably located – a major boost for the mining industry used to blowing millions out of empty holes in the ground.

“Basically, that means if you are sitting at a roulette table and counting cards, then you are putting the odds in your favor,” says Rod McIllree, executive chairman of Bluejay.

With its macho and slow image, mining hasn’t always been an obvious partner for Silicon Valley and other tech companies. This, however, is starting to change. Stricter policies and attitudes towards climate change mean that reducing carbon emissions is no longer an option.

KoBold is part of a growing group of companies developing technologies to help the mining and metallurgical industry become cleaner and more efficient. Some of the best minds in tech have started to focus their attention on industries at the heart of the world’s biggest challenges, aided by an increasing flow of cash from investors.

“The world is a huge manufacturing base that relies on a very small primary input of primary resources,” says McIllree. “Using big data and hard numbers, I’m surprised it’s taken so long. “

The constant supply of copper, cobalt and nickel for car batteries and electrical wiring will have to be found and dug by the mining sector. Major backers of KoBold Metals include Breakthrough Energy Ventures (BEV), an energy and climate fund created by Microsoft’s Bill Gates in 2016 and backed by a series of other billionaires, including Amazon’s Jeff Bezos.

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