The first "green" gold pour using CSIRO’s non-toxic gold recovery process has been achieved with a small Australian gold producer, showcasing how innovation could create niche market opportunities for more sustainable commodities. EMILY LEHMANN reports
To meet growing consumer expectations, some technology companies are seeking to secure greener, more sustainable supplies of metals for their products. Some mining companies are already stepping up to the challenge.
CSIRO believes this market demand will grow in future and that it's an opportunity for producers to embrace innovation and turn raw commodities into higher value, uniquely Australian products.
A great example of what's possible, is CSIRO's work developing a non-toxic thiosulphate-based recovery process for gold.
The technology called "going for gold" offers a more environmentally-friendly way for recovering gold than traditional cyanidation, and could open up niche market opportunities for smaller gold producers or help them overcome regulatory barriers.
Successful industry trials of a new cyanide-free gold process
The CSIRO team recently reached a significant milestone when they poured the first "green" gold using the technology at demonstration scale as part of early industry trials.
The first gold was produced in partnership with small gold miner Eco Minerals Research at a demonstration plant in the Western Australian goldfields town of Menzies.
Eco Minerals Research hopes to be the first Australian gold producer to go cyanide free.
"The first gold pour is a major milestone in our progress towards becoming one of the world's first green gold producers," Eco Minerals Research managing director, Paul Hanna, says.
"In close collaboration with CSIRO we've gone through the design, engineering and fabrication stages and set up a processing facility in Menzies, delivering the first gold pour in just 10 months, which is a fantastic achievement."
A response to environmental and safety risks
Cyanide is used in more than 90 per cent of global gold production, but producers are facing increasingly tough regulations that prevent or restrict its use due to environmental and health concerns.
In response to recent spills of toxic cyanide, several regional agencies in the United States, South America and Europe have banned the use of cyanide for gold extraction.
The project was accelerated through CSIRO's ON program where the team identified that there are a lack of opportunities for miners with smaller deposits that do not fit into the large-scale economics of gold processing plants using cyanidation.
"We're not proposing a replacement for cyanide," CSIRO team leader, Paul Breuer, says.
"Instead, what we're offering is a process that could potentially allow production of gold from stranded gold deposits where cyanide can't be used, or is not economic to be used."
Reducing barriers to entry for smaller companies
To reduce economic barriers to entry for small producers, CSIRO's vision is to deliver the alternative process technology direct to mine sites via a mobile service.
The $2.1 million demonstration project was made possible through $860,000 in funding from the Science and Industry Endowment Fund (SIEF). The project was also supported by the Australian Government Department of Industry, Innovation and Science as part of the Entrepreneur's Programme.
The demonstration plant is expected to provide key information and lessons that will aid commercialisation of the technology.
The CSIRO team behind the innovation have already had commercial success with another tailored cyanide-free gold solution developed with Barrick Gold specifically for their Goldstrike Mine in Nevada where it has been used for nearly four years to maintain production rates.