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HomeMiningSmall scale miningFrom Chemical Engineer to Environmental Innovator: Revolutionizing Gold Recovery

From Chemical Engineer to Environmental Innovator: Revolutionizing Gold Recovery

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By Ngonidzashe Nyagadza

In a world where natural resources are both valuable and finite, the quest for sustainable solutions is more critical than ever. My journey as a chemical engineer has taken me on an unexpected path, where I witnessed firsthand the devastating impact of mercury used in gold mining to the areas around Chegutu and poor recovery of gold is . Motivated by his experiences and driven by a passion for environmental preservation, I embarked on a groundbreaking mission to develop a more efficient and environmentally friendly process for gold recovery. This article explores the inspiring story of my research project and my innovative solution that aligns with the goals of the Minamata Convention.

Unveiling the Environmental Consequences

My story begins with me getting a job at Pickstone Peerless gold Mine after graduating from Harare Institute of Technology, armed with an insatiable curiosity and a degree in chemical engineering. I ventured into the heart of small-scale gold mining communities around Chegutu. What I witnessed there left an indelible mark on my conscience: the widespread use of mercury in the gold extraction process, resulting in severe environmental degradation and human health risks.

The Menace of Mercury

Mercury, a toxic heavy metal, has long been used in small-scale gold mining due to its affinity for binding with gold particles. However, the environmental repercussions of this practice are alarming. When mercury is released into the environment, it contaminates water bodies, infiltrates the food chain, and poses a significant threat to ecosystems and human populations alike. The gravity of this situation prompted me to take action, being inspired by the famous inventor Steve jobs who once said, you can connect the dots looking backward, I recalled research I did at my internship at the wattle company when I was trying to look for a possible use of tannin which was being produced there.

From the research I found out that they have potential to be used as an adsorbent due to the presence of hydroxyl groups that can be oxidized thereby reducing the trivalent gold ions. After witnessing the effects of mercury to the environment and being aware of its limitations in gold recovery: since mercury is usually limited to fine gold which means the small-scale gold miners are incurring losses in the process.

A Journey of Innovation

Fueled by a deep sense of responsibility, the I resolved to find a sustainable alternative that would mitigate the adverse effects of traditional gold recovery methods. Drawing inspiration from nature and armed with his knowledge of chemistry, an embarked on a journey of research and development.: Through tireless experimentation and countless hours in the laboratory, I successfully developed a revolutionary method for gold recovery. Central to his innovation was the creation of a biodegradable adsorbent, crafted from readily available raw materials. This adsorbent exhibited exceptional affinity for gold particles, surpassing the efficiency of mercury-based techniques. Moreover, it posed no harm to the environment or human health, aligning perfectly with the principles of the Minamata Convention.

The discovery of this novel process not only offered a solution to the environmental crisis caused by mercury but also promised economic benefits for small-scale miners. By adopting this innovative technology, miners could recover gold more efficiently while safeguarding their health and the environment.

 The project was cut short when my contract at the mine I was working got terminated so I could not be able to do all the needed laboratory tests to ensure that my solution can work with different types of ores. Recognizing the potential impact of his invention, I sought to collaborate with mining associations, governmental organizations and sponsors who are willing to help so that I can start working on how to upscale the process. Together, we can work to promote the adoption of this sustainable gold recovery process, arranging workshops, training programs, and public awareness campaigns.

Today, if the innovation can be upscaled it can stand as a beacon of hope in the realm of sustainable mining. By providing a viable alternative to mercury-based extraction methods, the project can contribute to the preservation of ecosystems, the protection of human health, and the advancement of responsible mining practices.

Malving Ngonidzashe Nyagadza holds a Bachelor of Technology Degree in Chemical and Process Systems Engineering from Harare Institute of Technology. 

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