JKUAT students innovate life-changing Bio-leaching method to be used in Gold Extraction

 

Newton Kones and Ronald Omondi, both 5th Year students pursuing a B. Sc. Mining and Mineral Processing Engineering, are making boss moves in the Mining industry. The two JKUAT students have come up with a Bio-leaching method that entails the use of bacteria to extract gold from its ore instead of Cyanide and Mercury, that is mostly used yet it is a major health hazard, especially when in gas form. Unfortunately, Mercury is used by most local miners and because of this, the bio-leaching project has the potential to make an enormous impact on the mining industry in Kenya. 

Recognizing the great potential that lies in the project, JKUAT through the Department of Mining Materials & Petroleum Engineering, College of Engineering and Technology hosted visitors from Impact facility a Non-Governmental Organization, who are interested in the bio-leaching project. The panel comprised Ms Monica Gichuhi, Mr. Cyrus Njonde Maina, Lead Mining Engineer East Africa, and David SturmesDirector Programme & Operations from Impact Facility, and Mathew Chambers founder of Chambers Federation, an organization that invests into talented entrepreneurs working to drive social change and innovation, primarily in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The team from Impact facility and JKUAT following the presentation by Newton Kones and Ronald Omondi on using bioleaching bacteria to extract gold
The team from Impact facility and JKUAT following the presentation by Newton Kones and Ronald Omondi on using bioleaching bacteria to extract gold

 The Impact Facility is a global sustainability organization that seeks to bring economic and environmental empowerment to artisanal and small-scale mining communities. They provide mining communities with access to the technical help, markets, capital, and equipment that enable the building of diverse local economies through viable and thriving small- and medium-sized businesses. 

Gold Extraction normally requires a combination of comminution and mineral processes to be performed on the ore. Normally, the ore is crushed, agglomerated, and then they sieve the powdered ore before adding mercury and then heating the mixture. The processing techniques can also include pressure oxidation before cyanidation. Mercury, though highly sought after, has serious health implications when it gets into contact with open wounds and can be a cause of cancer. In 2016, Kenya outlawed the use of Mercury, but the local miners still use it up to date because of its efficiency. Cyanide, if not used with care, can instantly kill.

During the presentation, Newton and Ronald narrated the entire process of how they took samples from mine water and isolated the bacteria. The duo is now planning to carry out experiments with the gold samples they collected from Migori and Yala. The team was also taken round the laboratory, where the students have cultivated and stored the bacteria. Despite the fact that the project requires constant temperatures and requires storage and that is quite costly, they are very optimistic and hope to introduce this technique to the local miners as soon as possible.

 

Newton Kones and Ronald Omondi showcase their research in the Labaratory
Newton Kones and Ronald Omondi showcase their research in the Labaratory

Why is it costly? Well, the two JKUAT students use an incubator for storage and temperature regulation similar to an oven which they are also able to access, a Bio base bench for a sterile environment, rotary shakes for the continuous shaking of samples, and a PH meter to adjust the PH accordingly among many other types of equipment.

“We have received a lot of support from the department and we are very grateful. With funding we will see this into fruition,” said Kones during the presentation. 

The team from JKUAT and Impact Facility pose for a group photo
The team from JKUAT and Impact Facility pose for a group photo

Also present were Prof. Justus Monga’re Onguso, Director, Institute for Biotechnology Research (IBR),  Dr. Daniel Omondi, Engineering Workshop Manager, and the host Dr. Julia Wangari CoD Department of Mining, Materials & Petroleum Engineering Department, JKUAT.

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