Out of 121 applicants from 22 countries, a team from Pure Earth Colombia emerged as one of four winners of The Artisanal Mining Grand Challenge to develop new innovations to conserve the Amazon rainforest.
Pure Earth’s innovative technique uses copper plates to decontaminate mercury-filled waste tailings from artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM).
“This challenge gave us the possibility to enhance developments … with a technology that can recover up to 80% of the mercury present in contaminated tailings, one of the most efficient innovations today.”
The Artisanal Mining Grand Challenge: The Amazon is a global competition that seeks to transform artisanal and small-scale gold mining into a more environmentally responsible and socially equitable practice. Twelve finalists received initial funding of $50,000 each, which allowed them to develop and test their innovations in the field. The Pure Earth team will share in the $300,000 prize to continue the development and scaling of solutions.
Led by Alfonso Rodriguez, with Angie Ortega and Diego Marin, the Pure Earth team has been working for the past few years with partners and with local artisanal miners like Juan Torres and María to ensure the technique works with miners who will be using it on the ground. Pure Earth’s copper plates technology was developed in part because Colombia suffers among the worst mercury pollution in the world, releasing between 50 to 100 tons into the environment every year, according to estimates made by the Colombian government. But the innovation has the potential to help reduce mercury emissions not only in the Colombia and the Amazon, but also in ASGM communities worldwide.
“One of the most useful stages of this challenge was to…understand that the solution was in our hands.”
What does winning the Grand Challenge mean? We spoke with Alfonso:
The Amazon has been one of the most rewarding experiences of our work in permanent collaboration with the local government and communities to accelerate solutions to mercury pollution. This challenge gave us the possibility to enhance developments by optimizing the uptake of the free mercury in the environment with a technology that can recover up to 80% of the mercury present in contaminated tailings, one of the most efficient innovations today.
What did you learn from the competition?
One of the most useful stages of this challenge was to know and listen more closely to the problems of the miners when reprocessing the tailings, and to understand that the solution was in our hands.
The main hope of this challenge is to reach areas of difficult access, not only in the Amazon region but anywhere in the world. Therefore, the resources obtained from this award will be used to continue improving the innovation by looking for a homogeneous product, which meets the needs, not only of government entities and miners but also of communities, as we all deserve to live in a space free from anthropogenic mercury pollution, which is what the Pure Earth team works on in the world.
With the implementation of these plates, we seek to generate a sustainable impact under the three pillars–social, environmental, and economic–since health and ecosystems are preserved while providing direct and indirect jobs that contribute to the development of countries.