CSIRO cyanide-free gold recovery technology goes live

CSIRO’s commemorative ingot, made from fine gold extracted using its non-toxic process. Image: CSIRO

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) is taking its Going for Gold gold recovery technology out of the trial phase and into the real-world market.

Cyanide leaching is the most popular gold leaching reagent in many countries, but CSIRO’s method which took 20 years of research and around $10 million in investment proposes a non-toxic alternative.

The research body’s Going for Gold initiative is based around the notion of designing alternative extraction reagents that “don’t cost the Earth”.

“Cyanide is used in about 75 per cent of global gold production, and while the industry works to manage the associated risks, there have been recent toxic spills overseas that have caused great concern to communities,” said CSIRO research program leader Chris Vernon.

“Developing an alternative process, which eliminates hazardous chemicals while maximising gold recovery, meets industry and consumer demands for more sustainably-produced gold.”

CSIRO’s method, which eschews the use of cyanide and mercury in the gold leaching process in favour of non-toxic thiosulfate, was used to create its first gold ingot in August 2018 following extensive trials. Now, the system is set for rollout at Western Australia-based company Clean Mining.

The environmentally-focused company is in negotiations with Northern Territory-based ICA Mining Services and WA-based Nu-Fortune Gold to commission the technology.

Clean Mining plans to distribute CSIRO’s method to a global mining market, offering licences, equipment, product support and turnkey processing plant options. Clean Mining managing director Jeff McCulloch said CSIRO’s method was useful for new greenfields sites, existing mines looking to upgrade, and regions where cyanide use is banned.

“This technology provides gold miners with an opportunity to proactively evolve their environmental, social and governance (ESG) standards,” McCulloch said.

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