Making the mining industry greener: an environmentally-safe way to extract gold


Cyanide – a highly-toxic chemical compound – is being used by mining companies in the extraction of gold from the soil. While the compound is safe for humans wearing protective coverings, the same cannot be said for the environment that absorbs traces of the chemical that are left in the process of extraction. The hazardous nature of the mining business is the reason why the industry is being heavily criticized by environmentalists all over the world.

The face of the mining industry, however, might change with the groundbreaking discovery of some scientists from the Northwestern University.

Sir Fraser Stoddart, a professor of chemistry, and his team were able to discover a non-toxic method to isolate gold from the soil with the help of a common baking ingredient: cornstarch.

“The elimination of cyanide from the gold industry is of the utmost importance environmentally,” said Stoddart. “We have replaced nasty reagents with a cheap, biologically friendly-material derived from starch.”

The new material made with cornstarch was discovered purely by accident. Stoddart’s team originally intended to create a three-dimensional structure that can be used for storing gases and molecules.

The mining industry is facing a lot of challenges today. Apart from the pressure given by environmental activists, mining companies are now facing a “drought” due to the fact that most of the easy-to-mine gold has already been extracted from the Earth. Bullionvault mentions that gold outputs from some of the biggest mines in North America, South Africa, and Zimbabwe have fallen to very low levels.

Stoddart and his team’s findings were documented in the online journal of Nature Communications.

Image of gold miner from Shutterstock

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