Newton Fund

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Increasing productivity and removing toxic mercury from Colombia’s gold mines

Artisanal and small-scale mining is important for Colombia’s social and economic growth and represents more than 70 percent of the country’s total gold production. However, these often informal and unproductive mining operations use mercury – a highly toxic and polluting element – to extract the gold ore. In 2018 the Colombian government banned mercury in gold mining to reduce its impact on the environment and reduce mercury exposure to miners and the general population.

A Colombian innovation and research company has developed a solution that eliminates the need for mercury and supports a clean, profitable and sustainable gold mining sector. With support from Newton funding, Nanotecol is working with the Government of Antioquia to implement a gold extraction process using nano and biotechnology. The process reduces costs, increases production efficiency and improves the quality of gold, all without generating pollutants to the environment.

As well as reducing mercury pollution, Nanotecol’s circular economy model rehabilitates degraded soils and reuses the toxic cyanide as fertiliser for a legume plant. The plants can be used as livestock feed and they also capture carbon dioxide; providing additional income for local communities and reducing CO2 emissions.

Nanotecol has created an alliance with Cornare, an independent body which promotes regional development and the protection of natural resources and CORPOURABA, which implements environmental policy in Antioquia. Together they are working with mining communities to pilot the technology so they can eradicate the use of mercury, protect the livelihoods of artisanal miners and their communities, and help Colombia take the path towards green growth.

"This technology will change Colombia. It’s the tool the new government needs." 

Gustavo Cordova, former Deputy Director of Corpouraba


Self-sustainable gold mining process

Project leads: Lina Marcela Hoyos, Co-founder, Professor Universidad Bolivariana, Nanotecol, Yudira Zapata Sánchez, Co-founder and manager and project manager, Nanotecol and Lesli Zapata Sánchez, Co-founder and Assistant Management, Nanotecol

Delivery partners: Royal Academy of Engineering and Ruta N