A golden alternative

US mining giant Barrick Gold has pioneered a unique alternative to cyanide for gold recovery with the help of Australia’s leading research organisation CSIRO.

The world’s largest gold producer is the first to commercialise the environmentally friendly alternative, thiosulphate – a non-toxic chemical used for gold recovery.

With the industry challenged by reducing grades, more complex ores and increasingly tougher regulations?to minimise the environmental impact and risks, the continued research and development will be instrumental for the industry’s future sustainability.

The new thiosulphate leaching process comes off the back of over 10 years’ research and development, with Barrick Gold unveiling the method at its Nevada Goldstrike mine.

The gold miner worked to develop the unique processing method after an increasing amount of ore recovered at the mine was carbonaceous, which doesn’t respond to cyanide without pre-treatment.

The unique process, developed with the help of CSIRO’s ON accelerator program, works by recovering the gold dissolved by thiosulphate using ion exchange resins. Sulphite is then used as an additive to the ion exchange resin for easier separation of the gold, which has traditionally been a challenging process.

Further thiosulfate processes are being developed by CSIRO to work for high-grade gold concentrates, along with in-situ leaching in deep mines and where cyanide is banned or uneconomic.

The broader research is set to help the mining industry closer to home.

CSIRO Mineral Resources Principal Research Scientist Dr Paul Breuer said the research was a vital component in advancing the development of cost-effective thiosulfate- based processes and had the potential to help small mining companies compete against the big mining giants.

Dr Breuer said with increasing public concern and tighter regulations around the use of cyanide, smaller companies were grappling to compete with large corporate miners.

“The use of cyanide is becoming a bigger and bigger hurdle, so it’s closing out more and more of the smaller miners,” he said.

“In WA there used to be quite a large number of small miners back in the 70s and 80s, the government had the mills, and the small miners were able to use these to process their ore.
“That’s all closed down and disappeared, so we see a potential to open up that group of miners again with our research and development.”

Dr Breuer said while the industry was progressing towards cyanide alternatives, it would be some time before we could see thiosulphate processes as a norm and replacing cyanide, especially with the industry’s lucrative sway over WA’s economy.

The gold industry is Australia’s third largest export earner after iron ore and coal, raking in $14 billion in 2014-15.

Around the world, cyanide in gold processing has already been banned in Germany, Czech Republic, Hungary, Costa Rica, some Argentine provinces and in the US states of Montana and Wisconsin, but Australia would need a proven and accessible alternative to cyanide before it could be banned without having a significant impact on the Australia economy.

“The gold industry is very conservative, we have to find those that are keen and have a desire to adopt something new and try it out,” Dr Breuer said.

“It could be some time before thiosulphate-based processes become standard practice.

“Quoted numbers by researchers who have done studies on innovation in the mining industries say it typically takes 15 years to get these at a point where it becomes standard practice.”

latest news

Minister to explain EDI axe at AMEC Convention

Senator the Hon Matthew Canavan, Minister for Resources and Northern Australia will return to Perth and speak at the AMEC Convention on Wednesday 7 June, 2017.

Read more

Perth hackathon unearths valuable solutions

Over ninety participants attended Unearthed’s fourth Perth based mining hackathon over the weekend, with the event involving industry challenges set by Newcrest Mining, South 32 and Unearthed for the participants to solve.

Read more

Sam Walsh protests innocence in bribery scandal

Former Rio Tinto boss Sam Walsh has again protested his innocence in connection with a bribery scandal in the West African nation of Guinea.

Read more

Former Rio boss has no fear of the truth

Former Rio Tinto Chief Sam Walsh says he acted ethically and legally during his time at the mining giant, which is currently under investigation over a payments scandal in West Africa.

Read more

BHP, Ngala renew relations

BHP Billiton is renewing its partnership with a local early parenting and early childhood services group.

Read more

Rio gives nod for Koodaideri study

Rio Tinto has pushed the button on a $30.9 million feasibility study to develop its Koodaideri iron ore project in the Pilbara.

Read more

 

industry insight

Is the boom back?

Australia’s mining industry delivered an unprecedented set of export figures during the December quarter

...
Products and Technology

A golden alternative

US mining giant Barrick Gold has pioneered a unique alternative to cyanide for gold recovery with the help of Australia’s leading research organisation CSIRO.

People & Projects

Bridging the gender gap

The gender gap in the mining and resources industry has not received adequate attention, though the tide is beginning to turn. Diversity is becoming less of a buzz-word and

...
Occupational Health & Safety

No barrier to improved blast performance

An internationally patented structural water-sealing barrier designed to significantly improve blasting performance has been launched by Australian blasting

...

interview

Innovation Adaptation

Australia’s innovators are inefficient when it comes to applying ideas in practice, according to a Department of Industry, Innovation and Science report released in February.

Read more