Avertana creates innovative extraction technologies that can turn large industrial waste streams into a global commodity, while also reducing environmental impacts.
New Zealand’s steel manufacturing industry produces hundreds of thousands of tonnes of steel annually. This can generate big waste streams and technologists and entrepreneurs James Obern, Sean Molloy and Dr Sean Simpson saw those waste streams as an opportunity to explore. They founded the company Avertana to create innovative extraction technologies that can turn large industrial waste streams into a global commodity, while also reducing environmental impacts.
Avertana’s founding members started with a question: how does one transform industrial waste streams into useable products? Obern, Molloy, and Simpson found that the residual slag produced by NZ Steel is rich in titanium oxides. These oxides are valuable and can also be used to produce paint pigments, water treatment chemicals, and fertilisers, and more. But Avertana’s slag refinement process required experimenting with new chemistry and developing new concepts. So the company turned to the University of Auckland for help.
Avertana hired PhD students from the University of Auckland’s Light Metals Research Centre (LMRC) to conduct its research. The LMRC Director Dr Ron Etzion made a significant contribution to Avertana’s research on heat-treating Magnesium salts and Avertana made a breakthrough after 18 months of experimenting. Now, the company co-locates at the Newmarket Innovation Precinct (NIP), conducting their research at NIP Labs and maintaining their research relationship with Dr Etzion. ‘NIP Labs’ is an initiative which allows companies to work shoulder-to-shoulder with University of Auckland researchers in the Newmarket Innovation Precinct’s laboratory facilities. In Avertana’s case, NIP Labs allows the company to use University wet labs and furnace labs, supported by a highly skilled technical capability. NIP Labs is based at the centrally located Newmarket Campus on Khyber Pass Rd.
James Obern, Commercial Vice-President of Avertana, said the laboratory facilities and infrastructure available at NIP would be very difficult for companies like his to access without the NIP Labs initiative. Most new labs need to go through rigorous consent processes to set up industrial plants that work with strong acids and bases, but NIP’s facilities already have those permissions in place. Obern said practising this chemistry in the extensive and purpose-built labs at NIP allowed Avertana to explore and expand on its R&D. Obern also said that NIP Labs allows Avertana to work on a per-project basis, which is crucial to their commercial development. Avertana looks forward to creating opportunities for students to work alongside their industry professionals as it continues to work with NIP.