Barrick offers $10 million reward for silver extraction solution
OTTAWA: In an unusual approach to research and development, Barrick Gold is offering a $10 million prize to any scientist, researcher or inventor who can increase the amount of silver the company recovers from a mine in Argentina.
Gold and silver extraction, which generally involves trickling diluted cyanide over crushed rock, has at times caused serious environmental problems. But Barrick's decision to stake a prize for a new process comes from its frustration at recovering only 6.7 percent of the silver in its Veladero mine, compared with an 80 percent rate for its gold.
After several alternative techniques for removing the silver proved either unsuccessful or financially unfeasible, Gregory Wilkins, chief executive and president of Barrick, said the company thought it needed a broader approach.
"This is a way to go out to the global scientific community to focus that intellectual horsepower," Wilkins said Wednesday from the company's head office in Toronto. "Rather than limit the problem to a very small R&D staff, we have turned our R&D group into managers of research."
The competition's winner, if there is one, will probably receive more than $10 million. Wilkins said that Barrick, the largest gold miner in the world, would help finance research proposals with potential. If any prove successful, the prize will be an additional payment.
Finding an answer will not be easy. Cyanide leaching processes remove very little silver from the open pit mine's ore because, unlike its gold deposits, the silver is encapsulated in silica.
"Silica is a pretty tough material," said William Bawden, who teaches hard rock mine engineering at the University of Toronto. "If you're going to attack this, you're going to need to pull together different groups of people who probably had nothing to do with mining before."
Barrick has no restrictions on who can enter the competition. The company posted detailed information about the mine and the silver problem at a Web site: Unlock the Value
. As submissions come in, Wilkins said he expected the company's review committee to "filter out the crazy stuff pretty quickly."
Wilkens said that he hoped the competition would stimulate research of a broad range of cleaner process for extracting minerals and that Barrick would not reward any process that is environmentally unsound.
Mishandled cyanide at mine sites has poisoned rivers, and cyanide leaching draws undesirable toxins from ore, particularly mercury, in addition to gold and silver.
Barrick is not the first Canadian mining company to run such a contest. In 2000, Goldcorp posted the geological data for a poorly performing gold mine in Ontario and offered $500,000 in prizes for determining drill sites that could improve the mine's yield. The competition discovered sites that had not been identified by the company. With that information, the mine has gone from producing 50,000 ounces, or 1,400 kilograms, of gold a year to 500,000 ounces.
Barrick offers $10 million reward for silver extraction solution - International Herald Tribune