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Melissa Zhang: Decarbonizing Mining and Recovering Metals for Energy Transition

Melissa Zhang: Decarbonizing Mining and Recovering Metals for Energy Transition

Ladderworks is a publishing platform of diverse picture books and an online curriculum with the mission to empower over a million kids to become social entrepreneurs. Our current series features interviews by our interplanetary journalist Spiffy with inspiring Social Entrepreneurs, Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Builders, and Changemakers who are advancing the UN SDGs. 

Spiffy here with the scoop on the entrepreneurial leaders of Planet Earth. As the only interplanetary journalist stationed on this blue planet, I’m thrilled to present this galactic exclusive with Melissa Zhang, co-founder and COO of RockFix. Let’s learn what’s happening at RockFix and how Melissa is making a positive impact in the world.

Spiffy: Hi Melissa, thanks a million for talking to me today. What can you tell me about the challenge that you’re addressing through RockFix?

Melissa: Thanks for having me, Spiffy! Electrifying all cars, batteries, and buildings to fight the climate crisis requires a 30x increase in metals mined. For every one gram of copper we mine, 99 grams of toxic waste is produced. What if we can turn this waste—the size of New York City and the height of One World Trade—into a useful tool to fight climate change? This is not just any waste. RockFix understands that the chemical properties of this mine waste enables it to capture and store carbon dioxide, safely and forever. We are a team of mining engineers, chemists, geologists, and policymakers committed to scaling this solution to every mine in the world so that no waste is wasted. Let’s unlock the massive carbon removing potential of mining!

Spiffy: That’s very exciting and impactful! What motivates you to do this?

Melissa: I’m the daughter of a geologist and granddaughter of generations of blue-collar workers. Beyond playing my role in making the Earth a better place for future generations, I feel personally about bringing climate solutions into the center of rural communities. I also absolutely love working with my brilliant co-founders. It’s a gift to be learning so much from your team every single day.

Spiffy: Very cool. I love to hear your joy of learning from your work and team. What is the impact of your work?

Melissa: If we could capture carbon from every pile of mine waste in the world, we could reduce 1.5 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide annually! That’s the equivalent of removing all the passenger cars from the US, Brazil, and Thailand off the road based on greenhouse gas house emissions! Our work strives to fulfill additional benefits including increasing metals for the EV supply chain, reducing the waste dump’s risk of collapse, and high-quality climate technology jobs in rural communities. 

Spiffy: Wow, that’s mind boggling! Tell me about a recent milestone by your organization. What impact does that make?

Melissa: We won the Harvard President’s Innovation Prize yesterday. It was a dream come true to have the platform to tell the public about the essential role that mining plays in the green transition. We are also grateful for having Bill Gates on board with our scientific vision last year. His Breakthrough Energy foundation has funded our early research. 

Spiffy: Congratulations to you and the RockFix team! That’s wonderful. Is there anything else you would love to tell our audience?

Melissa: I encourage every child to stay curious about science and the way our Earth breathes life into everything, every day. 

Spiffy: Beautifully said. Thanks for speaking with me today, Melissa—it’s been an honor!

Melissa Zhang is co-founder and COO of RockFix, a Breakthrough Energy-backed carbon sequestration and critical metal recovery startup. RockFix is Winner of the Harvard President’s Innovation Challenge 2023. Melissa was Finalist for the Financial Times-McKinsey Bracken Bower Book Prize in 2021 for her writing on business decarbonization. Melissa previously worked for BlackRock and Google X. She is a joint Harvard MPA-Stanford MBA candidate and earned her Bachelors of Science from UC Berkeley. (Nominated by Alex Parks at the Harvard Innovation Labs. First published on the Ladderworks website on June 28, 2023.)

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of Ladderworks LLC.

© 2023 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Lindsey Brannon. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. For the Ladderworks digital curriculum to help K-3 kids advance the UN SDGs, visit Spiffy's Launchpad: Creative Entrepreneurship Workshops for K-3 Kids and their caregivers here.