Money for metals

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Investors are pledging £5m support in the future of a novel electrolytic metals processing method.

Investors are pledging £5m support in the future of a novel electrolytic metals processing method, raising the largest series A financing round for this sector in the last five years.

Metalysis, a metals extraction pioneer, has completed a £5m investment round co-led by Seven Spires Investments and new investors, 3i, along with a syndicate comprising Generics Asset Management, The Coalfields Enterprise Fund and Cambridge Capital Group.

Together with national and European grant money, the round will be used to continue the scale-up and commercialisation of the new metals extraction process.

Metalysis is exploiting the FFC (Fray-Farthing-Cheng) Cambridge process, a novel technique for the extraction of metals from their oxide.

Developed by Professor Derek Fray and his team at Cambridge University, the process works for a wide range of high value metals and offers significant economic and environmental benefits over conventional extraction techniques.

Founded in Cambridge in 2002, the company relocated to South Yorkshire in late 2004 where it is building a production facility for the process. The company is also working to close a number of commercial deals with leading international metals companies to further exploit the process.

The striking feature of the FFC Cambridge process is its simplicity. It uses a molten salt as the electrolyte for the electrochemical reduction of a metal oxide to metal. The metal oxide powder is contained in the cathode and directly converted into metal by electro-deoxidation. The oxygen ions carry the current across the cell and gas is evolved at the anode, leaving the pure metal at the cathode which can simply be ground to a powder.

'The ability to produce pure metal from metal oxides without the need for extreme heating or use of damaging chemicals is a real advance for the industry. This kind of innovation in the refinement of key metals happens once every 50 years,’ said 3i Director and Metalysis Board Member, Laurence Garrett.

Metalysis holds exploitation rights for the new electrochemical reduction process. The FFC Cambridge process, patented globally in 1998, is a novel electrolytic method for reducing metal oxide to metal in a molten salt.

The process economics indicate that some metals can be produced at a fraction of the price, including tantalum, zirconium, beryllium, silicon, molybdenum, vanadium, tungsten and niobium.