Gold Extraction: A Complicated Process for a Vital Metal

In Dust Control, Industrial Facilities, Mine & Quarry by Jim Silva

Gold is one of the most sought after metals in the world — but getting to it is never as easy as just finding a nugget in the dirt.

When most people think about where gold comes from, they probably conjure up an image of the old-fashioned prospector, complete with dirty overalls, a sifting pan, and a pickaxe slung over his shoulder.

But even back in the days of the California Gold Rush, when miners extracted over 750,000 pounds of gold and pushed the territory to statehood, this typification of a gold digger wouldn’t hold up — at least not if the prospector expected any kind of success. While gold can be panned from rivers or found in nuggets dug up from the ground, obtaining enough of it to meet today’s market demand involves a process that’s much more complicated.

The Process

After the gold deposit area is prospected and mined of ore — two time-consuming but essential aspects of the process — the materials are ready for extraction. This can be done in a number of ways, depending on the type of deposit it came from and the form in which it was mined.

While new innovations are constantly improving extraction methods, the basic metallurgical techniques have remained the same since 1887, when the cyanide process (the most commonly used extraction method) was first introduced. And today, there are seven core commercially viable recovery processes: amalgamation, gravity concentration, flotation, pyrometallurgy, hydrometallurgy, refractory ore processing, and alternative lixiviants.

Increasing Demand

Utilizing the most efficient gold extraction processes available is more important than ever given the demand for the metal in today’s market. Gold is much more than just a shiny valuable or form of currency — it’s an essential component in the electronic devices we increasingly rely on everyday.

Because of its efficient conductive properties, gold is found in cell phones and computers, along with other devices. It’s used in connectors, switches, and relay contacts in phones (about 50 milligrams worth in every device, according to the World Gold Council) and in the motherboards and CPUs of computers. Since gold doesn’t easily corrode, it’s preferred over other, more volatile metals like silver and copper.

Other uses for gold can be found in the medical field, where gold injections are a treatment for arthritis to relieve joint pain and stiffness, and as a component of essential equipment. The aerospace industry also employs gold in a variety of ways, chief among them being a means to stabilize the core temperature of spacecraft.

Keeping Gold Safe and Clean

Like any other industrial endeavor, it’s crucial that gold recovery and extraction methods are handled with the utmost regard for efficiency, regulatory compliance, and limiting environmental impact. To meet all these requirements, operators of gold production facilities should look to Midwest Industrial Supply, Inc. for the best solutions to the challenges they face throughout the extraction process.

Midwest provides mines with industry-leading dust control and material handling solutions to keep things running smoothly, no matter what conditions arise. Since the gold extraction process is so complicated, it’s essential to approach it with a foolproof, replicable strategy — and with Midwest, mining doesn’t have to be any more complex than it already is.

Jim is Midwest’s Business Unit Manager for Global Mining. He is experienced in operations management, asset management, and business improvement.