Kiwi startup Avertana signs South African MOU for steel slag transmutation

Kiwi startup Avertana has entered into a technology partnership with South African-based Nyanza Light Metals to turn waste steel slag into titanium dioxide pigment.

The memorandum of understanding will see Avertana’s novel waste technology used for the first time at a four billion rand plant being built in the Richards Bay Industrial Development Zone, an economic development business entity owned by the KwaZulu-Natal provincial government on the northeastern South African coast.

Avertana has developed a proprietary process using a combination of inorganic chemistry and process engineering to convert slag, solid industrial waste from the steel industry, into a range of valuable raw materials for manufacturing with a lower carbon footprint than existing processes.

Titanium dioxide is the most widely used white pigment in the world, found in everything from paints and coatings to cosmetics and paper and plastics. Global demand is an estimated six million tonnes a year and annual sales over $US15 billion.

Waste steel slag that Evraz Highveld Steel and Vanadium has been stockpiling since 1965 will be used in the Richards Bay plant. It will produce about 50,000 tonnes per year of the white pigment once it starts production around 2019. South Africa media have reported about 550 permanent jobs and 1200 indirect jobs are likely to be created when the plant is up and running along with 800 during construction.  

Avertana chief executive Sean Molloy says it’s exciting to work with Nyanza on delivering a new pathway for titanium dioxide for the African market and the Middle East.

“The substantial resource opportunity, coupled with South Africa’s strong desire to add value to its domestic resources with reduced environmental impact, provides a great prospect to deploy our world-first process,” he says.

The startup is now negotiating with Nyanza on a definitive agreement for a potential joint venture. The process would also allow Nyanza to produce aluminium sulphate, magnesium sulphate and gypsum as co-products. The main shareholders of Nyanza Light Metals are private equity companies, Arkein Industrial Holdings, based in Johannesburg, and Mauritius-based DBF Capital.

Avertana still plans to build a $US300 million full-scale manufacturing plant in New Zealand using slag from NZ Steel within the next two years and says it has other deals in the pipeline offshore.

It has raised $15 million in capital since being set up in late 2012 by founders Sean Molloy, Sherif Ibrahim and James Obern, who are all former staffers of Kiwi-founded and US-headquartered cleantech company Lanzatech.

The company has had a $US2 million demo manufacturing plant operating at Manukau since late last year to confirm its lab results can be produced at scale.