GeoSilica: Minerals straight from the source
GeoSilica is the first company in the world to extract silica from geothermal waters for health supplements.
If someone had told 15-year-old Fida Abu Libdeh that she would be running a multi-national company from Iceland in the future, she certainly would have given them a quizzical look! Perhaps that is what makes the story of GeoSilica so interesting. While it is undoubtedly a story of finding a niche market, innovation, and using a sustainable energy byproduct, it is also about Fida's extremely compelling story and seeing Iceland from another perspective.
Fida moved to Iceland from Palestine with her family when she was 16. To say that there were not a lot of immigrants to Iceland in 1995 would be an understatement! Moving is hard enough when you are a teenager, but moving to an entirely new landscape with a different culture was exciting as it was confusing. Then, of course, there was the challenge of learning to speak Icelandic. Fida openly talks about her frustration of learning to speak and write in Icelandic in high school before there was any curriculum for non-native speakers. These early obstacles set up Fida to not shy away from challenges and taught her to persevere in school and business.
Growing up in Iceland, Fida was fascinated by Iceland's geothermal energy, which led her to study energy and environmental engineering at Keilir Institute of Technology. She met Burkni Pálsson, and what was a final school project for their B.Sc. studies eventually turned into GeoSilica. GeoSilica launched its first product in late 2014, a liquid silica supplement made from 100% natural silica designed to help people feel their best while using a geothermal waste resource.
One of the challenges geothermal energy producers face when tapping into the earth's heat reserves to make steam is mineral-rich water. When the hot water makes its way to the surface, the pressure changes the fluids to steam. The minerals and salts precipitate in the water, causing severe silica scaling problems in pipes, boreholes, heat exchangers, and others equipment. Often geothermal fluids are either re-injected into the geothermal reservoir, which is very costly, or pumped out to sea if possible. Inspired by what they saw in Iceland's fishing industry and making the most of every fish, Fida and Burki pioneered new technologies to extract the silica. Instead of wasting this resource, Geosilica realized that they could source nearly unlimited silica reserves from the geothermal hot waters entirely sustainably while benefitting the geothermal plants, and they were the first to ever do this!
Silica is an essential trace mineral for the human body. We generally process silica from the foods we eat, but the silica is more bioavailable in a drinkable form.
Silica plays a role in the formation and growth of bones and is also necessary for healthy skin, teeth, hair, and nails. Furthermore, research indicates that silica may prevent osteoporosis in women and reduce aluminum accumulation in the body that may cause Alzheimer's disease. To extract the silica, the company developed a proprietary two-step production process. In the first step, the silica concentration in the geothermal water is increased many times without changing the chemical composition of the water. In the second step, the geothermal water is gradually replaced by clean aquifer groundwater while maintaining the silica concentration. The end product is exceptionally pure silica in the form of microscopic particles in the solution of pure water. There are no chemicals of any kind added or used during production.
Fida says that a significant challenge for getting its first product to market was the uncertainty of production processes and the complete unknown reaction of the health marketplace to an entirely new product. Not to mention, neither Fida nor Burkni had experience launching new products or running a company. An educational detour to get an MBA in 2015 really helped Fida find her business footing and take GeoSilica to the next step. The company opened a subsidiary in the Netherlands, GeoSilica Iceland B.V., where silica processed in Iceland is shipped to the Netherlands for bottling and packaging for the European market. Plans are in motion this February to test and replace its current plastic bottles with new biodegradable, vegan bottles from LysPacking in France.
Over the years, GeoSilica has revised its formulas and now offers four bottled silica products for different needs such as hair, skin, nails, or mind and energy. Two new products are in development and scheduled to be on shelves in the fall of 2022. GeoSilica is working hard to register trademarks for its products in Asia and get them on the shelves there. Not surprisingly, GeoSilica products are widely available in Iceland, but the most popular market is currently Europe. The company sells products through retail outlets and via its online store. While the pandemic put a dent in growth in 2021, GeoSilica has expanded by leaps and bounds since 2015. Not one to sit still—Fida is looking into new methods of extracting silica from the brine, a hot and concentrated saline solution circulated through the hot rocks of geothermal areas. She sees tremendous potential in the cross between geothermal and health.
Not one to forget the obstacles she faced in education and business, Fida supports entrepreneurs, especially women working in technology. In her former university, Keilir Institute of Technology, she is discouraged by the rate of women dropping out. Fida has established cooperation with Keilir, Reykjavik University, and the University of Iceland to have students work on projects for GeoSilica and receive credit. Fida understands that this "real-world" experience gives students practical skills in the work and business environment that go a long way. Not only is GeoSilica striving to make the most of a resource stream, but the company also wants to encourage future entrepreneurs to seek possibilities where there were none thought before.