Scientists are growing crops from rock dust from an N.L. gold mine
There may not be gold in them thar hills anymore, but there may be an opportunity for agriculture. That’s if a research project—looking at whether vegetables could be grown in the rock dust left over from the Anaconda gold mine on the Baie Verte peninsula—keeps yielding promising crops.
On average, the mine pulls between 1.5 and two grams of gold from every ton of rock. “A little more than the weight of a paperclip,” says Allan Cramm, Anaconda’s vice-president of innovation and development. “Everything outside of that is waste.” That waste comes in the form of pulverized dust and it just sits there on the mine site, he says. Right now, there’s 2.5 million tonnes of rock dust at the site—and growing. Cramm wants to do something with it.
When he found a soil additive online called Rock Dust, he thought he might have something. A few preliminary tests at Anaconda showed their rock dust might have similar properties to the product he found, so he had more testing done through the College of the North Atlantic. Now he’s working with Raymond Thomas, an associate professor of boreal ecosystems and agricultural sciences at Memorial University of Newfoundland’s Grenfell Campus, on a rigorous three-year round of testing to see if it’s suitable for market. “This is a breakthrough opportunity for mining in general,” Cramm says.
Thomas has a team of three graduate students from Grenfell working on the project. A fourth will be joining the team soon, he says. They test the dust to be sure it’s free of harmful chemicals like cyanide, which is commonly used to separate gold from rock. Then they try to grow crops with it. The project has now finished its first year and so far the results are inspiring, Thomas says. “We have some results that we find surprising. The prospects are very promising.”
If it works out, the findings could have big implications for the mining industry. “I’m really excited about the opportunity to change mining,” Cramm says. •