• Remediation of heavy metals from mine tailings in the Amazon
    Paul Bunje, Conservation X Labs Co-Founder and President; Dr Leigh Cassidy, SEM’s Lead Scientist, and Elizabeth Bosman, Deputy Mission Director, USAID Perú.

Hazardous Waste

Remediation of heavy metals from mine tailings in the Amazon

Jan 04 2023

SEM, a leading developer and operator of environmental technology solutions, has won the top prize of $100,000 in the Artisanal Mining Grand Challenge: The Amazon. The competition, which is an international competition aimed at supporting innovators, researchers, and entrepreneurs from around the world to develop and implement solutions to address the environmental and social costs of artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM), awarded a total of $300,000 to four teams for their innovative solutions designed to conserve the Amazon rainforest.

Earlier this year, a team from SEM was selected as one of twelve finalists to participate in the Amazon CoLab, an accelerator program led by Conservation X Labs in partnership with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Microsoft, and Esri. During the six-month program, SEM's DRAM Filtration technology was developed and tested on-site in Madre de Dios, Peru. DRAM is designed to remediate heavy metals from mine tailings, and during the trial, it removed up to 95% of contaminants measured.

In addition to its impressive performance, the SEM team worked to adapt DRAM to the remote nature of the jungle, and they also utilized cassava peels as the organic filter media, donating the flesh back to local orphanages. The widespread adoption of DRAM is expected to play a significant role in the regeneration of areas impacted by ASGM, not only by preventing further environmental release of associated metals, but also by applying the technology to historical tailings ponds and other impacted water courses. This will prevent the continued environmental spread of contaminants in waters, sediments, and soils, helping to mitigate any further damage to the Amazon's biodiverse ecosystem.

SEM's Lead Scientist, Dr. Leigh Cassidy, who led the project, commented on the team's success, saying, "We are absolutely delighted to have been named as one of the winners of the Challenge. The prize fund will be fundamental to the further development of DRAM and enable the system to be rolled out across the wider market." Dr. Cassidy went on to say, "It is apparent that both owners and workers of mines are concerned about the environmental effects of mining, but the short-term focus is concerned with making a living, which at the moment takes priority over sustainable action. It is fortunate that DRAM can provide a solution to both of these aspects, providing artisanal miners with an additional revenue stream through the forward sale of recovered metals, whilst protecting the environment."


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