AI raises yields for gold mining

New technology optimises cyanidation process and cuts costs

By Mark Swift

Artificial intelligence and analytics companies could be the driving force behind evolutions in gold mining, according to experts who say that these technologies are vital to improvements in efficiency and sustainability.

“Gold mines lose $7 billion every year because they don’t monitor and control their processes efficiently,” said Benedikt Kitchgässler, the CEO and founder of CyanoGuard. He was speaking during a September 10th webinar for Prospect Mining Studio, a partnership between Indian mining conglomerate Vimson Group and Newlab, the technology platform.

One of the most important parameters for gold leaching is to monitor and control cyanide, which is used to extract gold from low-grade ore. Cyanide is expensive and one of the major cost drivers in the processing side of the mining business, explained Kitchgässler. Mines need to make sure that they do not use too much cyanide. At the same time, mines have to use enough to ensure that gold is not left unextracted, as this reduces the efficiency and profitability of the site.

Leaching on the rise

With the rise of gold prices, heap leach processes for extracting lower-grade reserves are expected to be used on a significant number of previously cost-prohibited projects. This makes it increasingly important that mines are as accurate as possible with the quantity of cyanide that they use.

The mining industry is at a point where it has to adapt and improve its processes and operational efficiency, according to Nancy Guay, vice president of technical services at Agnico Eagle Mines Ltd., and moderator for the Prospect Mining Studio webinar. “We now need to include new technology from our other industries in our mining environment, which is not easy,” she said.

The mining industry is considered a conservative industry, Guay explained, going as far as to say that it is late in terms of technological advancement.

Improving the cyanidation process

The most common gold leaching process uses cyanide to dissolve gold into a water solution, simplifying its extraction. Tailings — waste materials — from cyanidation are a serious pollutant, giving an environmental imperative to improve the efficiency and sustainability of the process.

The need to remove cyanide after the process is complete adds to the overheads of the gold mining business. Most mines have teams that take samples at specific points every few hours in order to monitor cyanide levels. They measure using a manual test process. This is problematic, because it is slow and prone to operating bias and incorrect measurements.

“With such highly subjective data, it’s virtually impossible to run the cyanidation process efficiently…the mine is really not able to control and optimise the process,” explained Kitchgässler.

CyanoGuard is a chemical technology company specialised in toxin detection. Its patented single-use test cartridges change colour depending on cyanide concentration in a sample. The company’s AI-based solution for real-time monitoring of cyanide levels uses these test cartridges, a handheld analyser, and a cloud platform to produce results in 60 seconds.

The solution can reduce a mine’s cyanide consumption by up to 15 percent and improve gold production by 2 percent, according to Kitchgässler — the equivalent of millions of euros.

CyanoGuard announced in April that it had raised €2.8 million in a seed funding round led by Wingman Ventures, with participation from BlueOcean Ventures. As part of this, the company received a non-dilutive SME Instrument grant from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Programme.

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