The days of bounty hunting are back. In a real-life reprise of the 1969 Hollywood movie Mackenna’s Gold, a Canadian mining company has declared a cash prize of $10 million (Rs 40 crore) to anyone who finds a way to raise silver from a mine in Argentina. The mine has silver deposits worth $3.6 billion.
Barrick Gold Corporation, the Toronto stock exchange listed mining company, has sent a representative across to India to talk to scientists and mining engineers. The scientists and technicians have been invited to vie with more than 1600 proposals from across the world for the prize money. “There is a lot of enthusiasm in the scientific community, but we wanted to get opinion from Indian scientists,” said Barun Gohain, principal engineer, Barrick who was in India to speak to a group of prominent engineers and technicians in India’s IITs and ISMs.
Many of the top geologists and mineralogists in the country admit that rock formations of the sort mentioned in the challenge are indeed rare, and the challenge is unique. But though the bounty has attracted many, some are a bit sceptical of the success of the project. “It is an extremely difficult problem, and needs a varied team of engineers, scientists and technicians to solve,” said a participant on condition of anonymity.
Barrick is not prepared to consider a team, and is insisting on individuals going for the challenge.
The gold mine, located in Veladero on the Chile-Argentina border, has 180 million ounces of silver contained in gold reserves in the ore, which is very difficult to recover. Gold particles occur in the pores of the rock and are readily recovered through conventional methods, but the silver particles are encapsulated in silica, the basic mineral for glass.
Current processing methods are recovering only 6.7 per cent of the silver.