Eureka! A solid gold solution to make Archimedes proud

We've found a golden solution for gold extraction.

We’ve found a golden solution for environmentally friendly gold extraction.

By Roger Nicoll

‘Eureka!’ cried the Ancient Greek scholar Archimedes as he (allegedly) ran naked through the streets of Syracuse. He’d just discovered a method to prove the purity of gold by measuring its density, and was decidedly proud of his finding.

Thankfully, these days we favour blog posts to running naked through the streets when we make important new discoveries… but it doesn’t mean we can’t still give a good shout: 

‘Eureka! We’ve found a way to produce cyanide-free gold!’

We’ve been working with an American company, Barrick, at their Goldstrike plant in Nevada, to produce the first ever gold bar that doesn’t involve the use of cyanide extraction. Cyanide is, of course, highly toxic and a potential environmental hazard. The new process we’re so excited about uses a chemical called thioshulphate, which will greatly reduce the environmental risks and costs associated with gold production.

Thiosulphate has long been seen as a potential alternative to cyanide for liberating gold from ores, but it has proved difficult to master – until now. Thanks to the new process, which incorporates patented technology we’ve developed with Barrick, the company will be able to process and profit from four million tonnes of stockpiled ore that was uneconomic to process by traditional methods.

As part of the thiosulphate process at Goldstrike, gold-bearing ore is heated in large pressure chambers, or autoclaves. It’s then pumped as a thick slurry of ore, air, water and limestone into the new ‘resin-in-leach’ circuit that takes place inside large stainless steel tanks.

Within the tanks, the slurry interacts with thiosulphate and a fine, bead-like substance called resin that collects the gold. At full capacity, 13,400 tons of ore can be processed daily, with leaching taking place simultaneously in two sets of seven tanks.

Our very own minerals expert Danielle Hewitt had a hands-on role in developing and proving the CSIRO technology incorporated at the Goldstrike plant. But for security reasons, it was strictly hands-off the resulting gold bar.

Danielle Hewitt with the first  gold bar produced using the new process.

Danielle Hewitt with the first gold bar produced using the new process.

“This was a golden moment more than 20 years in the making, including three years working with Barrick to refine the commercial process,” said Danielle.

She said the new process will contribute an average of 350 to 450 thousand extra ounces of gold each year to the operation, allowing the large plant to keep operating.

The new technology could also have some benefits closer to home, with the potential to safely recover gold in Australia where cyanide would otherwise pose a significant environmental risk and environmental protection cost.

As with Archimedes, another gold standard solution.

For more about this and other innovations from our Mineral Resources Flagship see the latest issue of Resourceful.


Taking our solar technology to the land of the rising sun

Solar field with sun reflected in mirror

We have a sunny outlook when it comes to bringing our solar technology to the world. Our solar field in Newcastle, NSW, with sun reflected in mirror.

Did you know we’re exporting our solar technology to the world?

Fresh from setting a world record last year, our solar team continue to see great demand for our heliostat technology. We recently took this tech and our expertise to Cyprus to help the island nation with its transition to renewable energy, and now we are off to the ‘land of the rising sun’, Japan.

Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems (MHPS) are establishing a field of 150 heliostats in Yokohama, for running research projects using CSIRO-designed heliostats. MHPS recently received funding from the Japanese Ministry of the Environment for the purpose of reducing carbon dioxide emissions, and we are delighted that this global leader in energy has chosen our technology; it’s a great vote of confidence.

But it’s not all about success overseas, our solar tech is making a difference to the local car industry as well.

We’re not talking about solar powered vehicles (though we are a fan of solar cars, in fact we’ve developed technology for solar powered cars and tested it at the World Solar Challenge). We’re talking about this technology empowering local companies to transition from the automotive industry to renewables.

We’ve been working with Adelaide-based company, Heliostat SA (HSA) to harness the same skills and equipment they perfected making car parts to manufacture our heliostats. It’s a perfect fit for a company looking to transition its skilled workforce into a new and lucrative industry.

Our heliostat design is unique. It’s smaller than conventional heliostats, and uses an advanced control system to get high performance from a relatively inexpensive design.

Solar Thermal Research Hub

Modern art or a renewable masterpiece? Both? Our solar thermal research hub in Newcastle, New South Wales.

Heliostats are of course the linchpin of solar thermal technology. Consisting of a single mirror hooked up to a computer controller, heliostats work together in large groups – or arrays – to track, reflect and concentrate the sun’s heat onto a single receiver point. It’s sort of like using a magnifying glass to focus the sun’s heat to a point, except we’re not melting toy soldiers and ants. We use this heat to generate electricity, in this instance by heating steam to supercritical (550 degree plus) temperatures to drive a turbine.

This energy can then be stored cheaply as heat in solar thermal systems, giving this technology great potential for medium to large scale power – even when the sun isn’t shining.

This project is another example a decade of solar thermal research coming out of from our energy centre in Newcastle. The continued success and international demand for our technology continues to make a strong case for exporting our solar technology and creating more value for the Australian economy.

For more information on CSIRO’s solar thermal capabilities, visit http://www.csiro.au/en/Research/EF/Areas/Solar/Solar-thermal

Keen to see how the solar tower technology works? We’ve got you covered with this supercritical solar steam video.


The Showdown: Total Wellbeing and the 5:2 Diet

Studies have shown intermittent fasting can fend off illnesses including cancer, diabetes, heart disease and neurodegenerative disorders and may improve insulin sensitivity - but there is still a lot more to learn.

Some studies have shown intermittent fasting can fend off illnesses including cancer, diabetes, heart disease and neurodegenerative disorders and may improve insulin sensitivity – but there is still a lot more to learn.

This blog was originally published on the Total Wellbeing Diet website. 

Fans of intermittent fasting programs – think the 5:2 diet – often find they have success with weight loss, so today we are taking a look at the pros and cons of this kind of diet.

While fasting technically refers to not consuming any food or liquid at all, intermittent ‘fasting’ diets, like the 5:2 diet, do involve very minimal calorific intake on the fasting days – we’re talking around 2000 kilojoules all day, compared to the daily recommended intake of around 10,000 for men and 8,700 for women.  These diets run on the premise that you fast for 2 days of the week and consume as many kilojoules as you like on the non-fasting days.

While 5:2 is the most popular configuration, others find they have more success following a 4:3 or 6:1 ratio of non-fasting to fasting days.

The surprising news is, studies are suggesting these diets are successful in achieving weight loss. Even more surprising, Dr Manny Noakes, Research Director of our Food and Nutrition Flagship, says research is revealing people don’t eat more than they usually would on the non-fasting days – which was what many experts expected to see.

The research is still limited, but Dr Noakes says animal studies have been optimistic. Some of these animal studies have shown intermittent fasting can fend off illnesses including cancer, diabetes, heart disease and neurodegenerative disorders and may improve insulin sensitivity.

Dr Noakes says she herself would not discourage someone following such a diet that was seeing success, though she cautions there is still a lot to learn before it gets the seal of approval.

“If people who are overweight have struggled to lose weight following other diets, and they find this works for them, then that is great. Weight loss, particularly belly fat, has many health benefits – visceral fat is involved in disrupting blood-sugar regulation and is associated with high cholesterol levels. It’s also a risk factor for developing Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.”

On the flipside, Dr Noakes says what we don’t yet know about intermittent fasting is what these diets mean for long term health.

If the person is simply losing weight because they are effectively cutting a lot of kilojoules from their weekly intake, but they are still eating poorly, then I’d have to argue they still need to address their eating habits for longer term health gain.

She says while restricting your kilojoule intake is a guaranteed way to lose weight, cutting back indiscriminately can lead to an unbalanced, unhealthy diet, and recommends a more balanced approach. “It’s important not to cut key food groups including dairy, grains and cereals – you’ll be missing out on some important nutrients essential for good health.”

To summarise the pros and cons:

ON THE PRO SIDE:

  • Loss of body fat/ weight for overweight people is of health benefit in general.
  • Early research shows contrary to what scientists expected to see, people do not consume more kilojoules on the non-fasting days.
  • Intermittent fasting diets seem to be as effective as calorie restricted diets for weight loss.
  • There is early research to suggest it is effective in curbing cravings.
  • It provides an easier weight loss plan than standard kilojoule restricting diets – there is no weighing or ‘forbidden’ foods to worry about – on the fasting day, the limited calories will be accounted for very quickly and there are no restrictions on non-fasting days.

ON THE CON SIDE:

  • Fasting diets don’t change the way you eat – there is no evidence at this stage that suggests people eat healthier food than they did prior to starting the diet. While maintaining a healthy body weight is important for good health; a nutritious diet offers important vitamin and minerals.
  • There is limited research on the long term effectiveness – or any long term health issues related to intermittent fasting.
  • This lack of research means we don’t know who the diet works for and who it might not – for example, what medications or illnesses it may interact badly with.
  • Unlike diets that make healthy lifestyle changes – like the Total Wellbeing Diet – fasting diets do not provide advice on how to eat for optimal health, in a way that is sustainable in the long run.

Find out more about how we’re helping transform Australia with our innovative food and health science. 


Gifts of the GAB: Five not-so-fishy facts about the Great Australian Bight

Southern right whale at the Head of Bight, South Australia.

Southern right whale at the Head of Bight, South Australia.

Tomorrow is World Ocean Day, the United Nations-recognised day of ocean celebration and action. It’s a day to stop and take stock of the importance of the ocean and its major role in our daily life. Our coastlines and the waters beyond are an intrinsic part of Australian life; not to mention their importance to our climate, biodiversity, and countless industries.

We’re involved in a veritable ocean of research around the sea and skies of Australia, which you can learn more about here. There’s so much that we could talk about, from our world-leading shark research, to our sustainable prawn fisheries in the Timor Sea … but today we’d like to focus on that great expanse of salty water to Australia’s south: the Great Australian Bight. Or, as it’s so affectionately known, the GAB.

IMG_2443It’s an amazing place. Here are just five gifts of the GAB:

  1. The GAB produces 25 per cent of Australia’s seafood (by value), supporting Australia’s largest commercial fishery (by volume).
  2.  More than 85 per cent of known species of fish, molluscs and echinoderms in the waters off Australia’s southern coast are found nowhere else in the entire world
  3. The region contains great white sharks and iconic marine mammals such as whales, seals, dolphins and seabirds, and is home to more than 80 per cent of Australian sea lions.
  4. The GAB’s physical characteristics make it globally unique and quite distinct from the adjacent seas east and west of Australia.
  5. A 4-year, $20 million Great Australian Bight Research Program is one of the largest whole-of-ecosystem studies ever undertaken in Australia. Specimens will be collected from the deepest set of samples ever taken from the area, to a depth of 3 kilometres. Did you know we recently deployed 125 archival tags into juvenile southern bluefin tuna in the Great Australian Bight to understand the movement and behaviour of these fish in what is their most significant feeding ground in the world. If you find a fish tag, please let us know. You can find more info here.

We’re also working with BP, the South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI), the University of Adelaide, and Flinders University to improve understanding of the Great Australian Bight. Our collaborative research will ensure future development in the region is ecologically sustainable. Find out more here.


Not just glitz and glam: tiny diamonds give way to new cancer treatment

It might look like a handful of Nerds candy, but this close up of nanodiamonds shows how they form unique structures that can protect drugs, while also releasing them slowing.

It might look like a handful of Nerds candy, but this close up of nanodiamonds shows how they form unique structures that can protect and deliver drugs more efficiently. 

By Emily Lehmann 

Diamonds may be the ultimate in glitz for their beauty and unparalleled sparkle, but for us, the real diamond gems captivating our attention are invisible.

Tiny diamond nanoparticles (or nanodiamonds) – only an 8000th the width of a human hair – are proving to be extremely valuable in medicine, giving way to new life saving treatments and diagnostic tests.

Just a couple of years ago, a diamond discovery by our virtual nanoscientist and current Feynman Prize winner, Amanda Barnard, underpinned a new chemotherapy treatment that targets brain tumours.

Developed by the UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles), the treatment uses nanodiamonds to carry chemotherapy drugs directly into brain tumours, providing greater cancer-killing efficiency and less side effects than other treatments.

The technology was made possible thanks to Amanda’s discovery that diamond nanoparticles have unique electrostatic properties that repel or attract (kind of like a magnet) so that they spontaneously arrange into very useful structures.

Let’s take a closer look at what that looks like. Nanodiamonds have many facets – imagine the polished cut of a precious gem or the surface of a soccer ball – and each facet has an electrostatic property characterised by a different colour.

The coloured surface of one nanodiamond connects with the complementary colour surface of another nanodiamond, while surfaces of the same colour repel. Multiply this process by many and the particles come together much like a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle.

The coloured facets of each nanodiamond have a unique electrostatic property that allows them to attract or repel.

The coloured facets of each nanodiamond have a unique electrostatic property that allows them to attract or repel.

It’s these electrostatic properties that the UCLA used to bond to the chemotherapy drug, doxorubicin, to the nanodiamonds at a molecular level.

The nanodiamond-doxorubicin combination (or NDX) delivers the same drug but with greater precision, in reduced doses, and with a slower and sustained release. It has been shown to delay tumour growth and improve patient outcomes.

Nanotechnologies like this offer huge potential in medicine, and when employed side by side with pharmacology, will improve drug delivery methods and speed up drug discovery.

For example, we can move away from repeated, re-administration of treatments and use more implants that offer the same (or better) control over dose rate and treatment cycles.

New drugs that more effectively target the site of disease will also lead to reduced dosages and less side effects, as well as the ability to tailor treatments.

We hope that our nanoscience research will continue to influence breakthrough health developments that benefit people around the globe.

Find out more about how our work in health is making a difference to industry, people and the planet.


Seashells to protect and deliver life-saving vaccines

Our materials scientist, Dr Kang Liang, was inspired by the natural biomineralisation process of seashells.

Our materials scientist, Dr Kang Liang, was inspired by the natural biomineralisation process of seashells.


By Emily Lehmann 

Vaccination is one of the most powerful and effective ways of protecting the population against infectious disease. Yet, getting vaccines to everyone who needs them, particularly in developing countries, continues to be a massive challenge.

But what if we could make vaccines more robust so that they can be more easily and cost-effectively transported?

An exciting breakthrough discovery by our scientists has the potential to make life-saving vaccines more accessible by putting an end to the need for refrigeration. And, as with many problems in science, the solution has come from nature.

Thinking outside the square, and inside the shell

A key challenge to vaccine delivery in developing countries is that they often need to be transported over long distances, via multiple transportation modes and through extreme temperatures to reach everyone who needs them.

Maintaining the ideal ‘cold chain’ temperature so that the vaccines remain intact can involve a series of refrigerated trucks and ice-cooled ‘esky’ carriers and is a costly and somewhat risky exercise.

Taking a cue from nature, we’ve come up with a protective seashell-inspired capsule that could cost-effectively and reliably preserve the key active ingredients in vaccines.

It mimics a process called biomineralisation where sea urchins grow a hard, protective shell to safeguard their fragile tissue inside. Applying this concept, has led to a molecular-scale shell that grows around and protects fragile biomolecules such as proteins and enzymes.

For a few dollars at most per dose, our shell could overcome the need to refrigerate vaccines and reduce the cost of delivery. It could preserve them and extend their shelf-life when exposed to hostile environments, such as extreme temperatures, pressure, pollution and bacteria.

The cost is minimal given vaccines can be valued for up to hundreds of dollars a vial. Our team believes that developing the technology at a commercial scale could see the cost of the technology reduced even further.

The shell is made of an extremely porous material called metal organic frameworks (MOFs) and has a flexible and customisable cage-like structure.

Like a sea urchin has pores, the MOF shell has tiny holes that allow it to trap and then release the biomolecules.

Not only could the shell be used to protect vaccines, it could also pave the way to developing new, more targeted drugs, better consumer products such as more efficient laundry washing powder, and improve chemical, food and water processing.

These are products that could enhance healthcare and the everyday lives of people around the world.

Our next step is to partner with companies to apply the technology in pharmaceuticals, healthcare, manufacturing, and chemical, food and water processing.

Companies interested in developing the shell technology should contact enquiries@csiro.au. The full paper can be accessed at Nature Communications.

Visit our website for more information about the project. 


Prized exploration technology brings big bucks home

Keith Leslie and Cathy Foley  at the 2015 Clunies Ross Awards.

Keith Leslie and Cathy Foley at the 2015 Clunies Ross Awards.

By Emily Lehmann 

Being recognised as one of Australia’s ‘foremost visionaries’ for your work  is, understandably, a pretty big deal.

But when you’re the brains behind an exploration tool that’s utilising superconducting quantum interference devices (or SQUIDs, for short) to locate more than $10 billion worth of mineral ore discoveries across the globe, it might help explain a few things.

This was the case last week for two of our very own researchers – Manufacturing Flagship deputy director, Cathy Foley and research scientist Keith Leslie – were awarded the prestigious Clunies Ross Award for innovation and commercialisation, thanks to their LANDTEM exploration tool.

This was a particularly momentous occassion for Cathy, who became only the fifth woman to win the award since its inception in 1991.

LANDTEM is a portable exploration tool that’s valuable for detecting highly conductive ores like nickel sulphides, gold and silver. LANDTEM uses the SQUIDs technology to differentiate the target ore from other conductive material or overburden, even for deeply buried ores.

It’s a far less invasive and more targeted technology then, say, drilling, so it’s more environmentally friendly. It’s also incredibly efficient: one company in Canada cut its exploration costs by 30 per cent using LANDTEM.

So, why do we care? Because valuable minerals are found almost everywhere, and they are essential to our life as we know it today. To put it in context, every smartphone contains about 40 different minerals; the average medium-sized car contains 19 kilograms of copper amongst a heap of other metal; and rare earths are needed for green energy products such as solar panels and wind turbines.

Minerals are also an important contributor to our national economy, and are our most valuable export business, worth about $119 billion.

CSIRO_MDU_Exploration_Final-Screen

While we have a wealth of mineral resources, these are finite and most of our deposits near the surface have already been discovered. That’s why we’re developing new efficient tools like LANDTEM to help explorers make valuable mineral discoveries needed for the future.

Cathy and Keith are continuing their valuable work by significantly enhancing the sensitivity and functionality of LANDTEM. Most recently they developed a new and improved version that will be able to detect ore bodies even deeper underground.

Watch this video for a closer look at the development of LANDTEM:

Keep digging over at our Mineral Resources Flagship to learn about similar projects.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,682 other followers