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The challenge

Conventional gold processes rely on cyanidation

There are several environmental and economic challenges with processing gold using the conventional 'cyanidation' technique that have left known gold deposits stranded.

Gold ingot
A commerative gold ingot from the first gold pour using our cyanide-free recovery method.

The infrastructure for a processing plant that uses cyanidation typically costs $30 million, and is therefore, a barrier to entry for gold miners with smaller deposits that do not fit into the large-scale economies of gold production.

Gold recovery by cyanidation is also of environmental and safety concern as it relies on the use of toxic cyanide.

Around the world, government regulations are becoming increasingly stringent on use of cyanide in gold processing.

Cost-effective gold recovery alternatives are needed to address barriers to entry for small producers and new government regulations.

Our response

A cyanide- and mercury-free alternative reagent and flowsheet

We have developed a cost-effective and environmentally-friendly gold recovery process called 'Going for Gold'.

Man in industrial plant
Paul Breur leads the CSIRO team developing Going for Gold ©  CSIRO, Damien Smith

The solution replaces cyanide with a safe, alternative reagent known as thiosulphate.

Thiosulphate dissolves the fine gold out of ores (the gold that has not recovered by gravity) at similar rates to conventional techniques. It's safe and lowers environmental impacts.

The method has undergone intensive testing in the laboratory to understand its leaching performance in association with reagent recovery and recycle. Results indicate it can be applied to a range of ore types.

The Going for Gold process requires some additional 'off-the-shelf' components and a new configuration, but is not complex and can be customised to deal with different ore types.

It could allow small gold producers to mine low-grade, uneconomic or stranded gold deposits, as well as gold reserves in jurisdictions where cyanide-use is banned or restricted.

Going for Gold builds on CSIRO's previous work tailoring a niche cyanide-free solution to Barrick Gold's Goldstrike Mine that's successfully been in operation since 2014.

The results

Developed and brought to market with industry partners

On the path to commercialisation, we partnered with small gold producer, Eco Minerals Research, to build a mobile gold processing demonstration plant based in Menzies, Western Australia. The demonstration plant enabled us to trial and improve the process to ensure it was robust and practical at scale for commercial operations.

The $2.1 million project to construct, commission and operate the demonstration plant in 2018 was supported by an $860,000 grant from the Science and Industry Endowment Fund. It was also supported by an Australian Government Innovations Connections grant.

In 2019, we transferred the technology to Australian company, Clean Mining Limited, which is offering technology products and licenses to industry.

A Perth-based jeweler now offers greener gold to consumers thanks to this technology. Clean Mining is also in negotiations with ICA Mining Services who is looking to commission the first commercial plant to process gold using the technology.

Contact Clean Mining for information on how you can access the technology.

[Music plays and images move through of a glowing crucible of molten gold being being poured out]

[Image changes to show Dr Paul Breuer talking to the camera and text appears: Dr Paul Breuer, Lead Researcher, CSIRO’s ‘Going for gold’ Team]

Dr Paul Breuer: I’m Dr Paul Breuer and I’m the current Gold Processing Team Leader at CSIRO.

[Image changes to show a lab worker opening a container of cyanide and the camera zooms in on the container and then on the researcher’s hand syringing up the cyanide from the container]

Currently toxic cyanide is used in the industry to recover gold.

[Images move through of Paul Breuer talking to the camera, two bottles of Sodium Cyanide, Paul talking to the camera and a bottle of Sodium Cyanide and the camera pans down the bottle]

There has been a number of environmental disasters associated with using cyanide and this has resulted in tighter regulations which have restricted and prevented the use of cyanide in some states and territories.

[Images move through of Paul Breuer talking to the camera, an employee standing on a platform bridge above a group of pipes on a worksite, and then an aerial view of the worksite]

CSIRO has developed a thiosulphate-based alternative to cyanide which has low environmental risk. This has application where cyanide can’t be used and where cyanide is ineffective.

[Image changes to show Paul Breuer talking to the camera and then the image changes to show the demonstration plant with a large crushing machine in operation]

CSIRO, in collaboration with Eco Minerals Research, and supported by C Funding has built a demonstration plant at Menzies.

[Image changes to show an employee holding a glowing crucible with tongs and pouring out the gold and then the image changes to show a gold circle bar moulded in the shape of the CSIRO logo]

It was amazing to see the plant generate the first gold bar and that was a key milestone achiever in proving that the process works.

[Image changes to show Paul Breuer talking to the camera]

This was done in ten months and was an outstanding achievement by the Project Team.

[Image changes to show Paul Hanna talking to the camera and then text appears: Paul Hanna, Managing Director, Eco Minerals Research]

Paul Hanna: We partnered with CSIRO because they simply are world leaders in research around the world and who could we get any better than CSIRO.

[Images move through of an aerial view of the demonstration site, an employee working on the site, and then the camera zooms in on the employee turning a tap on a tank]

Dr Paul Breuer: The demonstration plant is a low capex mobile plant suitable for small miners looking to unlock standard gold deposits.

[Images move through of Paul Hanna talking to the camera, a glowing crucible smoking on a metal drum of dirt, the cooled gold on the drum of dirt, the finished bar of gold in a case and Paul talking]

Paul Hanna: Once we’ve finished Stage 2 of the project at Menzies we see that we will be able to take a commercial and scaled up unit/process to the world that is waiting for a non-toxic solution in the gold processing market.

[Image changes to show the demonstration site and the camera pans over the site showing material moving along a conveyer belt]

The main benefits for a small company like ourselves is the entry price or capex.

[Image changes to show Paul Hanna talking to the camera]

We are talking an entry price that you could only dream about in gold production.

[Image changes to show Paul Breuer talking to the camera]

Dr Paul Breuer: The process will undergo further development on a range of ores and application at a larger scale and we’re seeking out additional projects to undertake that.

[Music plays and the CSIRO logo and text appears on a blue screen: CSIRO Australia’s innovation catalyst]

Australia’s first cyanide-free gold produced with Eco Minerals Research using our non-toxic extraction process.

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