Ximena Castillo, from Lecasti: «Waste is the new source of raw materials for high-impact technological innovations»

A novel material made from tailings, which allows copper to be recovered or modified to capture arsenic, that was the project that led them to winning the “Andes Challenge” contest, organized by the Innovation Hub of Peru, with the support of Alta Ley, and that put them on the radar of important Peruvian mining companies, with which they are now working in the pilot phase.

It all started when they applied for the «ReCupera Challenge», led by CodelcoTech, where the objective was to develop a nanomaterial made from industrial waste as the main raw material and with the aim of recovering copper and purifying water at the same time.

As a consequence of this experience and interaction with relevant industry players, the project converged on the use of tailings, thus giving shape to the project “Development of nanoporous inorganic polymers obtained from tailings for arsenic removal”, a material made from tailings that can recover copper or can be modified to capture arsenic. Along with this, Mitzi Muñoz joined the company Lecasti, founded by Bruno León and Ximena Castillo, forming an expert team in valuing waste from the scientific-technological point of view.

With this new project, they participated in the Andes Challenge contest, developed by the Innovation Hub of Peru and with the support of Alta Ley, an instance in which, in addition to being winners, they attracted the attention of three important Peruvian mining companies NEXA, Goldfields and Buenaventura, with which they are already working.

In this interview, Ximena Castillo tells us more details about the project, the importance of reaching Peru and her future challenges.

What is the project about? What is the problem you are addressing?
Our project «Development of nanoporous inorganic polymers obtained from tailings to remove arsenic» consists of a material made from tailings that can be modified according to the pollutant to be removed (recovered) or captured, that is, it can recover copper and thus valorize this metal, or it can be modified to capture arsenic. Currently, the challenge we are addressing is the high generation of sludge and the high cost of acid water treatment at its treatment plant.

Why is it a good solution?
Because from our developed material, we can recover copper that is now being lost. In addition to this, we will use its waste (sludge) and our acquired knowledge to implement an improvement in your current treatment and thereby solve the proposed challenge.

What is the target audience that you intend to conquer?
We target companies that generate waste like mining, since we know that it is a negative externality that generates financial expenses, environmental problems, damage to the ecosystem and, last but not least, many times problems with the surrounding communities.

What phase of the project are you in?
On one side, our developed material will be tested under the conditions of its process. On the other side, its waste (sludge) is in the study phase, to implement a technological solution and thereby encourage the development of skills and circular economy.

What are your growth expectations?
During this year, our expectation is to do a good job with Buenaventura in Peru, which would allow us to validate ourselves as innovative suppliers in mining, and then perform a similar service in Chile (which we have not been able to consolidate). Based on results, raise new capital with investors, to have our own piloting plant and establish ourselves as important suppliers in Chile and South America based on scientific knowledge and technological innovations.

What does it mean for you to be able to pilot your technology in Peru? When are they going to do it? What is the process?
For us it’s a nice opportunity to demonstrate that waste is the new source of raw materials for high-impact technological innovations, how to apply science to the circular economy, how specialized knowledge can transform paradigms and a (in my opinion) conservative industry. We will do it during year 2020. The process is to well diagnose the problem, carry out the necessary studies and experimentation, propose a feasible solution, and then implement and scale it up.

What does the contribution of Alta Ley mean to you to carry out this process?
This Corporation allowed us to articulate virtual and face-to-face meetings with Peruvian companies during the tour they made to Chile during the month of January this year. With this we got an approach and knew the problems and particular needs of each company. In this way, I consider that Alta Ley is essential in the connection that emerging companies like ours, dedicated to the development of innovation and technology transfer, can concretize with the productive sector to solve the relevant challenges of the mining sector, such as walking towards green mining, that cares about its environment, that takes care of its waste and better yet, that can make mining more efficient, by transforming its industrial liabilities into technological products that at the same time become assets.

Do you think mining needs projects/suppliers of this type to retain its leadership?
Absolutely, suppliers that are very rich in specific knowledge, with a focus on circular economy, can help mining adapt to the demands of the macro environment, based on sustainability with the environment and communities, make profitable or optimize processes that need to adapt, among other things, to «climate change” and also to comply with the regulations and legal requirements in a profitable way with the business.

What has the experience of innovating in Chile been like?
Difficult, despite the fact that we have achieved to contact important companies in the medium, there is a (notorious) adversity or resistance to change, or to share confidential information, which are necessary to evaluate projects of this type of innovation. On the other hand, with the companies that we had the opportunity to dialogue in Peru, they were more open to share their problems and be perceptive to receive proposals, now we are working hard to meet the expectations and trust they have placed in us.

Finally, I invite everyone who have concerns or problems with their waste, we would gladly evaluate solutions that are profitable and sustainable for the demands of this new industrial revolution, focused on the environment and knowledge.