Tech Transfer eNews Blog
University-Industry Engagement Advisor

U of Arizona researchers launch two separate companies after pivoting on their technology

By Jesse Schwartz
Published: November 9th, 2016

Researchers at the University of Arizona (UA) have developed a new way to prevent industrial corrosion and, in the process, a new, cleaner method to extract metals for the mining industry.

Last year UA scientist Dominic Gervasio and his team launched the start-up Caltrode to commercialize a novel high-temperature sensor to assess corrosion potential in heat-transfer fluids used in industrial settings such as thermal solar-power plants, nuclear reactors and oil refineries. With funding from serial entrepreneur and co-inventor Abraham Jalbout, in addition to start-up assistance from UA’s commercialization arm Tech Launch Arizona, Caltrode patented the technology to bring it to market.

At the same time, Jalbout had been working with Gervasio to study new formulas for lexiviants, or liquids used to selectively extract metal from ores.

“While we were struggling with stopping metals from dissolving, [Jalbout] kept asking us to dissolve metal,” says Gervasio. “So one day the angel of light hit me on the head and said, ‘Stop fighting it.’ And we said, ‘Why don’t we just use these salts to extract the metal?’”

Their process is similar yet much hotter than the common method of refining aluminum ore that had not been considered feasible for other metals. In a scientific paper, the researchers showed how they were able to extract more than 98% of copper from powdered ore concentrate containing roughly 20 percent copper.

Eventually Gervasio launched another start-up, MetOxs, this time based on the metal-extracting properties of their innovation, which, on top of being more efficient, is better for the environment than existing methods because it doesn’t require hazardous acids and solvents, and it doesn’t use water.

The start-up team hopes to eventually break through to the mining industry in the U.S. and Mexico, engineering and installing custom extraction reactors at customer sites. According to Jalbout, MetOxs is currently in talks with potential partners who would manufacture and distribute the product, perhaps speeding its path to market.


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