Home CompaniesB2B The race for rare earth elements is on. Could this Techstars Alabama graduate give us a head start?

The race for rare earth elements is on. Could this Techstars Alabama graduate give us a head start?

by Maija Ehlinger

“For the most part, the best you can do in grad school is that [your work] gets published,” Laura Stoy said. “A lot of time science doesn’t leave the lab.” 

But that wasn’t enough for Stoy, who saw a major market opportunity within her PhD dissertation at Georgia Tech in environmental engineering.

She’s now commercializing her work with Rivalia Chemical Co., a resource-recovery startup focused on America’s coal ash supply. 


About The Startup

Coal ash is something ubiquitous in modern life, but is probably not something you think much about.

The product is what is left over after power plants burn coal. The US alone produces about 130 million metric tons each year. Over half of that ends up in storage ponds, which are highly concentrated in the Southeast region of the US. 

The process of burning coal ash produces concentrated levels of rare earth elements (REEs), though traditionally it has been difficult to extract these elements from the ash itself. 

The startup estimates that 30,000 tons of REEs, worth upwards of $200 million, is added to the supply of US coal ash each year.  Rivalia is looking to change that reality through its extraction efforts and open up a new REE market.

Rivalia Chemical Co. has a two-fold mission associated with the production of coal ash. First, the company has created a way to retrieve valuable REEs that are essential for electric cars, batteries, optical sensors, LED screens, and satellites. Additionally, the company is focused on changing how we think about resource recovery and how we clean up waste sites. 

This could help change how we think about cleaner technology options moving forward. 

Stoy said one of the common questions she gets about the business is something along the lines of “well, aren’t we moving away from burning coal?” 

While there is a move towards more sustainable energy and heating options, she said Rivalia is crucial because coal ash produced from previously-burned coal is still a major opportunity for REE extraction. Plus, the reality is that coal burning around the globe isn’t ending anytime soon, making her solution something that could scale internationally. 



The Southeast EnergyTech World 

After completing her degree at Georgia Tech, Stoy decided to see if Rivalia could grow into a viable business outside of an academic setting. Techstars Alabama, an accelerator focused on EnergyTech and CleanTech ventures, was a natural fit for the early-stage company. 

The industry-specific accelerator introduced Stoy to many key stakeholders interested in the problem she was solving, including Alabama Power.

Being in Birmingham also put Stoy near many Southeast-based utility owners (who have most of the coal ash) for the key customer discovery process. 

She called the accelerator a “gamechanger” for her as she looked to move from a bootstrapped founder into someone scaling a venture-backed business. 

“What Techstars in Birmingham does really well is build a community,” Stoy added. “Because building a startup is really lonely…but [the accelerator] gave us access to people in leadership positions and people who could really make a big difference, on top of the support from mentors and other companies in the cohort.” 

The Techstars’ community is also excited about Rivalia’s future.

“Laura has a rare set of skills that have Rivalia set up for extraordinary success. She’s just as comfortable on stage pitching as she is in the lab. The future is very bright for Rivalia, and through Laura’s work, all of our futures are hopefully a little brighter, too,” said Techstars Alabama’s 2022 director Nate Schmidt. 


Want to follow what’s next for Rivalia? Get to know the company more here: 

Rivalia Website 

Techstars Alabama Pitch Video 

Laura Stoy PhD LinkedIn


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