Interview with 2019 Green Alley Award finalist RMF Tech
RMF Tech from Germany competed against more than 250 startups and made it to the Green Alley Award finals! The startup has developed a recycling process to extract the technology metal indium from residues. Indium is needed in the technology and energy industries for the production of displays, LEDs and photovoltaic cells. With RMF Tech’s patented technology, indium can be extracted from primary sources (slag and ore) and secondary sources (electronical waste) to meet rising global demand. Read all about their technology and the challenges ahead.
# The RMF Technology is a highly specialized procedure. How do you explain the extraction process and the importance of indium in simple words to someone who is not familiar with the topic?
Our extraction process is a chemical procedure with a special feature: It enables the processing of primary material (like slag from smelting) and secondary material (like waste from solar production). Put simply, these material flows are processed in three steps: Initially, the material is treated with acid in a stirring tank reactor. In the second step, the resulting solution is piped and processed in an extraction plant. By doing so, we are able to separate base metals (e.g. zinc) from liquid residues containing technology metals like indium. The chemicals needed in this circle can be reused several times. Eventually, we obtain metallic indium from the solution by processing it in electrolysis cells. As a result, we obtain precious technology metals as intended. Further, we are able to recover the base metals, which are included in the starting material.
# Most of your team comes fresh from the university and now found their way into the startup world. What was the biggest challenge of being a newcomer in the business?
After our first contacts with potential customers, we realized that the market entry is a phase in which we needed guidance from a sales expert. Therefore, we asked other start-ups from various branches for recommendations and finally found a professional sales coach who supports us since the beginning of 2019. With her expertise, we identified our main issue: Our potential customers simply are not aware of the financial value of the metals within their waste while they consider costs for disposal as unavoidable. Realizing this market potential, we had to change their way of thinking about material flows and addressed a different approach: Instead of explaining our innovative technology in detail, we showed them how they can profit from it by saving disposal costs and selling the extracted metals or by recirculating the metals in their own production processes.
# How have you promoted your technology so far and what are your further plans? Do you see benefits / difficulties in promoting a technology instead of a touchable product?
Hitherto, we utilized the following three channels in order to promote our technology: We used online advertisement through our website and LinkedIn page. In addition, we presented the RMF-process at different start-up events. But most importantly, our raw material consultant helped us with his network to get direct contact to customers of our niche. After commissioning our demonstration plant we are going to invite all customers and potential customers in order to persuade them of our process’s ability on large amounts of input material. Also, we plan to present our start-up on trade fairs and in technology and recycling magazines. In this together, we are very grateful for the attention our start-up gained due to the nomination for the Green Alley Award. We see advantages in promoting a technology because our process is unique and hard to copy. The outcome of metals fulfills commercial quality standards and does not indicate details of the production technology. Promoting a technology also offers another strategic advantage: the pricing policy depends on the input material and therefore it is not transparent for our competitors. Nevertheless, we do see a challenge by promoting services around our technology instead of a touchable product: Our technology is a unique chemical process, which is difficult to explain in detail to our customers. We manage this drawback by showing the results of our technology and explaining the (cost) advantages of the service for our customers.