New technologies can help make mining greener – by Shawn Conner (Vancouver Sun – April 20, 2013)

But building a cleaner mine is no magic bullet for the industry’s public perception problems, especially when operating abroad

With its mobile ready-to-assemble drilling kits, Energold Drilling Corp. is used to going into untrammelled corners of the Earth – sometimes with unexpected results.

In particular, Energold CEO and president Fred Davidson recalls the Shuar tribe of Ecuador. “We had guys who, literally one generation earlier, had been headhunters,” Davidson said. “And they’d be standing there in a helmet, gloves, hearing-protection, goggles, boots and nothing else but a loincloth.”

Of the Vancouver company’s 245 drilling rigs, nearly 100 of them are what Energold calls low-impact. These are module-based rigs whose individual pieces can be carried on foot or by pack-mule down already-established trails (the heaviest piece, Davidson said, is just under 200 kilograms). This means that no access roads need to be cut to transport the rig to a remote site.

Once the pieces are at the site, workers – often including locals, like the Shuar – assemble the pieces into a drilling apparatus that takes up a significantly smaller amount of space than a conventional rig (four by four metres rather than 20 by 20).

At their best, new mining technologies like Energold’s portable rigs are greener, cheaper, safer and more versatile than standard equipment.

But they don’t really answer more fundamental questions, says MiningWatch Canada program coordinator Ramsey Hart.

“The use of smaller, lighter drilling equipment is a benefit, certainly,” Hart said. “But we also need to recognize that there are some places where any intrusion of industrial development may not be appreciated by local communities, and the presence of people and that scale of activity can still have an impact. It isn’t going to be a panacea for resolving conflicts around mineral exploration by any means.”

Advances in extraction and drilling methods can at least reduce waste.

Extraction of manganese, for example, uses a lot of energy and can leaving toxic tailings (the material left after the valuable mineral has been extracted from the rock ore). Manganese is an important component in steel and rechargeable batteries.

American Manganese Inc. of White Rock, and Kemetco Research of Richmond, have developed a hydro-metallurgical process that the company says can produce electrolytic manganese dioxide at a lower cost and more cleanly than the traditional method. Electrolytic manganese dioxide is used in some types of rechargeable batteries.

The traditional method of extracting the metal from ore is to crush, grind, roast and then leach the metal from the rock using sulphuric acid.

“All those things make your hair stand on end, right?” Larry Reaugh, company CEO and president, said.

American Manganese’s method breaks down the material in a weak acidic solution, a process that leaves the manganese suspended in the liquid. The process is designed so that dissolving the manganese consumes the acid, leaving a neutral solution and tailing that are far more benign.

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