In times of uncertainty like the Covid-19 pandemic, gold is considered a ‘safe haven’ in the financial world. Gold’s physical properties make it a reliable store of value and as such, less risky to invest in compared to high-risk assets like stocks. The result is a surge in the demand for gold to be mined, which has implications on the environment in light of the current way gold is being extracted.
The price of gold rose by 40 percent in a span of five months during the pandemic last year, following a rise in demand. The World Gold Council projects that the investment demand for gold will remain well supported. In 2020, gold was one of the best performing major assets of 2020, driven by a combination of high risk, low interest rates and positive price momentum.
Apart from demand fuelled by investment reasons, jewellery, electronics, dentistry and numerous other industries keep the demand for gold high.
This only means that more gold has to be mined, which will worsen the already-severe environmental ramifications of the process.
In gold mining, toxic mercury and cyanide is commonly used to extract gold from rock sediment but these chemicals can leak into the air, waterways and food chain, possibly causing neurological and other disorders in people and wildlife.
Concerns about the negative environmental impacts from gold mining has led to vehement opposition to build a mine in Curraghinalt in Northern Ireland, one of the UK’s biggest planned mines. Residents worry about contamination of water, air and land, and ultimately the negative health consequences.
Some countries have recognised the risks of using such toxic chemicals to extract gold. In Canada, the government has invested more than USD$584,000 in a cyanide-free gold leaching technology project this year. The clean gold extraction project, developed by Université Laval on a pilot scale, eliminates the need for cyanide in gold extraction.
Similarly, Clean Mining, part of Clean Earth technologies, has a new mineral processing technology that eliminates cyanide and mercury in the gold recovery process. Developed for more than a decade by CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency, this solution replaces toxic cyanide and mercury with a non-toxic gold recovery agent that is an inorganic compound.
While others have identified similar compounds previously, the Clean Mining technology is applicable to a range of ores for responsible mining operators. Moreover, this technology delivers similar gold recovery rates to cyanide without the compliance and rehabilitation costs associated with cyanide.
With Clean Mining technology, being socially and environmentally responsible in gold mining is easy. This way, the demand for gold can be met without the environmental risks.