Cleantech start-up Mint Innovation has raised almost $5.2 million from mostly Kiwi investors as it starts preparing for commercial deployment. 

The biotech firm has developed techniques using chemistry and microbiology to recover valuable metals from electronic waste, which makes it easier for the recyclers to secure as much value as they can. Mint Innovation has been running a pilot project in Auckland and now wants to scale up with a view to launching commercial operations in 2020. 

Chief executive Will Barker said New Zealand has been a good starting point to prove the technology, but that the funds raised will go to deploying a city-scale plant in the likes of Sydney or Melbourne.

“We’re able to build a plant for them at a low cost to address a whole city,” Baker told BusinessDesk. “Further development work needs to be done and certain optimisation work needs to completed.”

Australia is an attractive market with its strong government-led management systems for electronic waste and state-mandated collection schemes, he said. 

“This investment is about getting us to that commercial point.”

Venture capital firm Movac, existing backers Tuhua Ventures and WNT Ventures were among investors in New Zealand and Singapore who participated in the capital raise.

Barker said there was a lot of appetite among local early-stage investors who missed out on LanzaTech, and he noted his time at that carbon-recycling firm probably opened some doors. 

“New Zealand’s traditionally considered a challenging place to raise the $2-5 million type investments you need for a technology like ours, but there was a lot of appetite out there and it definitely feels pretty buoyant,” he said. 

Early-stage investors have been focused on digital start-ups for the past decade, but there was a resurgent interest in biotech firms, he said. 

“The deeper, more IP-intensive plays seem to be becoming increasingly interesting for the local markets,” Barker said. 

The company is optimistic about the timing of its commercial launch. Baker points to the growing legislative tailwind to clean up the mess created by electronic waste, combined with traditional international dumping grounds like China closing its borders to that waste.

Add the proliferation of devices such as smart-phones and an accelerating inbuilt obsolescence and that creates an opportunity for Mint Innovation. 

“When it comes to e-waste alone, approximately 50 million tonnes will be generated worldwide this year, with the metallic value alone estimated to be US$47 billion,” Barker said. “This includes US$22 billion in gold, found primarily in printed circuit board.”  

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