A chat with tozero: our 2024 Global Challenge Grand Winner

A chat with tozero: our 2024 Global Challenge Grand Winner

The Hello Tomorrow Global Challenge identifies the most promising, game-changing deep tech startups coming to life at every corner of the globe.

Every year, each of the 70 finalists selected to compete in the finals are chosen because they inspired our experts with solutions that could drive significant, positive change to our planet and society.

But there can only one grand winner. One startup is selected from more than 4,000 applications to take home the grand prize because their technology represents a completely untrodden path, a novel solution to a highly complex problem or problems, with a team behind it that has the strength and motivation to see it drive change.

This year…that startup was tozero.

We sat down with Sarah Fleischer, CEO and Co-Founder.

The backstory

Can you describe, briefly and in your own words, who are tozero and what you’re doing?

tozero is a Munich-based startup revolutionizing lithium-ion battery recycling. We recover critical minerals like lithium, cobalt, and nickel from used batteries using cutting-edge technology, creating a sustainable circular economy for battery materials.

Recovering critical minerals from batteries sounds complex. Could you share a brief backstory behind the idea and how it came to life?

The idea emerged from the pressing need to address battery waste and critical mineral shortages. Our technology’s DNA originates from the research of our co-founder and CTO, Dr. Ksenija Milicevic Neumann, during her postdoctoral work at RWTH Aachen. Recognizing the environmental and supply chain challenges, we developed an innovative recycling process that efficiently extracts high-purity minerals, transforming a waste problem into a sustainable solution.

Applying to the Hello Tomorrow Global Challenge

What made you apply to Hello Tomorrow, and how has the Global Challenge impacted your journey?

We applied to Hello Tomorrow to connect with like-minded innovators and investors. Winning the Global Challenge is a tremendous recognition of our team’s hard work and reaffirms the value of our mission to eliminate lithium-ion battery waste. Moreover, it has provided us with invaluable visibility and access to a network that accelerated our growth and opened doors to new partnerships.

tozero and beyond…

As the demand for lithium-ion batteries, and also critical minerals, continue to rise, how do you foresee your startup’s role in shaping the future of the energy transition?

tozero aims to be a cornerstone in the energy transition by closing the loop on battery materials. Our efficient recycling process meets the rising demand for critical minerals sustainably, reducing dependency on mining and supporting the global shift towards clean energy. Studies consistently show that secondary materials reduce up to 80% of the carbon footprint compared to primary materials.

We’re proud to be the first and only company currently delivering recycled lithium to customers in Europe. By disrupting the industry, we’re demonstrating what’s possible and helping Europe secure feedstock for the energy transition. With less than 3% of the raw materials locally available to build batteries, our novel and clean hydrometallurgical recycling process surpasses future EU recycling targets while significantly reducing carbon emissions compared to primary mined sources.

Europe is almost entirely dependent on lithium imports, and demand is growing exponentially. It’s not just the lithium-ion battery industry that’s hungry for this critical material; other underserved sectors include glass, lubricants, ceramics, cement for construction, and many more.

Our work at tozero is closing the loop and helping Europe secure a sustainable source of critical minerals for the energy transition. We’re truly bringing lithium-ion battery waste to zero and showing the world what’s possible!

Advice for deep tech startups

What advice would you give to early-stage deep tech startups with a dream to scale their solutions from lab to market?

Laser-focus on your unique selling proposition (USP) and scale quickly toward revenue and growth. Your biggest challenges are time and money, so outpace them by staying strategic, adaptable, and relentless in your pursuit of success!

You can’t tackle the climate crisis alone—figure out how to partner with existing market participants and integrate seamlessly within the value chain. Collaboration is key to amplifying your impact and driving meaningful change.

Are you a deep tech startup interested to learn more about the Hello Tomorrow Global Challenge? Head here to discover how you could be the next Grand Winner. If you’re an investor, industry leader or member of the deep tech ecosystem interested to learn more about our activities, head here.

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