Why We Invested: Ideon Technologies Bridges The Critical Minerals Supply Gap

By Bruce Leak

6 Minute Read

It was less than a year ago that we posted our predictions about technology innovations in decarbonization – and in that time we’ve seen more record-breaking droughts, heatwaves, flooding, and extreme weather events that reflect our planet’s rapidly changing climate. It’s deeply concerning, and it drives our commitment at Playground Global to invest in fulcrum technologies that help shift the world away from carbon-emitting fuels and towards more sustainable energy sources. 

Today, we’re pleased to announce a major investment in a fulcrum technology for the mining industry that will help bridge the gap in supplying critical minerals for the clean energy transition. Ideon Technologies joins the Playground portfolio as a global pioneer in high-resolution subsurface imaging for the mining industry. Their solution has been called ‘game-changing’ by experts in the sector and a massive step forward towards low-impact mining.

Addressing The $12T Supply Gap

When you think about investment in clean energy, you don’t typically jump to mining as a logical target sector. The reality is that there can be no clean energy without mining – it is the source of the critical metals and minerals required to roll out alternative power sources like vehicle electrification, wind, solar, and other types of renewable energy. These materials are so important that nations are building multilateral alliances and agreements to secure and protect future supply chains. 

The opportunity is tremendous. The World Bank Group estimates the production of critical minerals must increase by nearly 500 percent, or 3 billion tons, by 2050 to meet the growing demand for clean energy technologies. That represents an estimated $12 trillion supply gap to be filled. We need a step function increase in discovery and mapping, extraction, and refining capabilities in order to address the growing demand.

Surface Mineral Deposits Are Gone

Humans have been extracting minerals and metals from the Earth for thousands of years. As a result, many of the easy-to-access deposits at or near the surface of the Earth have already been extracted. Mining companies must search deeper to find deposits and they’re doing so with traditional methods – primarily drilling – that yield disappointing results. In the last decade alone, industry investment of $200B in exploration activities delivered only $109B in new deposits. Discoveries are down 75 percent, cost per discovery is up 400 percent, and the market is demanding more supply – faster and more sustainably – than ever before. 

Mineral exploration as it stands today is shockingly inefficient — with major investment and operational decisions made based on extremely limited knowledge about what really lies beneath the surface. It is quite literally like seeking a needle in a haystack — fewer than 10 percent of drilling attempts ultimately connect with a resource, creating unnecessary spend, wasted time, and thousands of tons of emissions. This is a process in urgent need of transformation.

Meeting The Critical Metals Supply Gap

This Canadian technology start-up takes us from outer space to beneath the Earth’s surface. Ideon Technologies is using the energy from supernova explosions to transform subsurface exploration and discovery, making mineral exploration and mine development more efficient and less impactful on the environment.

A spinoff from Canada’s national particle accelerator laboratory (TRIUMF), Ideon is a world leader in the application of cosmic-ray muon tomography. Its Discovery Platform™ integrates proprietary muon detectors, state-of-the-art imaging and data processing technologies, and artificial intelligence to deliver exceptional locational accuracy underground with higher spatial resolution than any other existing technique. Following a decade of commercial field trials, Ideon has demonstrated the capabilities to map subsurface anomalies with an unprecedented 95% certainty.

Mining companies can use the information to avoid hit-and-miss drilling — reducing cost and risk, saving time, and minimizing environmental impact. Ideon is already working with three of the world’s top five mining companies (BHP, Glencore, Vale) as paying clients, helping them map mineral and metal deposits (and other geological features) with confidence. Other major mining companies are also engaged and discussing a range of applications across the mining value chain.

This early traction is indicative of strong product-market fit. We determined that Ideon has an initial $11B total addressable market in mineral exploration alone, before assessing the myriad other use cases in mining and beyond. The timing is excellent for an investment to help them scale.

Beyond The Tech: Why This Team?

At Playground, we seek out the driven, the ambitious, the entrepreneurs at the forefront of science and technology– those who will transform bold visions into viable, world-changing companies. The mining industry has a reputation of being tough and traditional. The Ideon team has the pedigree to address it with credibility and a solid value proposition.

We first met CEO and co-founder Gary Agnew while he was at the world’s largest mineral exploration convention, nurturing the network he developed over 25 years providing mining equipment, technology, and services in support of the global mining industry. His co-founder and CTO Doug Schouten holds a doctorate in subatomic physics and is one of the few people in the world with the expertise to transform muon research into industrial problems solved.

Together, they have built a strong team with a compelling vision; complementary capabilities in leadership and execution in delivering advanced solutions; and expertise in deep-tech hardware and software development.

Transforming The Clean Energy Supply Chain

We’re excited to be a part of Ideon Technologies’ mission to help accelerate the world’s transition to low-impact mining, transforming the economics of mineral exploration and subsurface discovery, which will play a pivotal role in the way the world manages the critical mineral supply for clean energy.

Ideon’s proprietary science-based solutions ensure that it will remain competitively differentiated and strategically positioned for decades to come. We believe the market opportunity is enormous in the mining sector alone. Beyond exploration and discovery, Ideon has the potential to build its subsurface intelligence platform to support the entire mining value chain, playing a catalytic role in accelerating the world’s transition to low-impact mining.

We’re excited about the future ahead and continuing to discover and support enduring technologies that advance new possibilities. To learn more visit: https://ideon.ai/