Mercer Team Among Finalists in Artisanal Mining Grand Challenge Global Competition

Mercury Capture System

AMGCMACON – A team of researchers involved in Mercer University’s Mercer On Mission program focused on reducing mercury pollution and human exposure to mercury in artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) has been named a finalist for the Artisanal Mining Grand Challenge, a global competition that awards $750,000 in prize money.

The Artisanal Mining Grand Challenge, which received applications from 42 different countries, will announce prize winners during a virtual event in September.

Artisanal and small-scale mining is a critical source of livelihood for an estimated 40-plus million people worldwide. While this type of mining generates wealth in developing countries, its practices can cause habitat loss, species’ population decline, poor water quality, hydrological changes, and negative human health and livelihood impacts. Mining is among the most significant drivers of deforestation in the world’s tropical forests, a leading cause of global biodiversity loss. In addition, ASGM in the developing world is the largest source of man-made atmospheric mercury contamination, which can have devastating consequences for those impacted by the contamination.

“We are pleased to get to this stage of the competition and ecstatic to have our Mercury Capture System recognized at the international level,” said Dr. Adam Kiefer, Distinguished University Professor of Chemistry. “We are thankful that Conservation X has started this Grand Challenge to bring attention to the environmental and human health threats that ASGM poses across the planet.”

Dr. Kiefer has led Mercer On Mission initiatives in Mozambique, Ecuador, Peru and Guyana to develop and implement methods for reducing mercury pollution and poisoning among artisanal gold miners. His laboratory at Mercer is one of few in the world dedicated to developing solutions to this global health crisis. Teams of his students have developed analytical techniques using portable atomic absorption spectrometers and GPS units to map cities and identify the locations of excessive mercury pollution in the atmosphere.

In collaboration with Dr. Laura Lackey, dean of Mercer’s School of Engineering, Dr. Kiefer and students have developed programs to monitor mercury contamination as well as systems for capturing the mercury before it is released. Their team has developed and tested its Mercury Capture System (MCS) that removes mercury emitted in the air during the final stages of gold extraction and at the initial stages of gold refinement. This device is the basis for the Artisanal Mining Grand Challenge application.

Top: Mercer students Ally Fordham and Luke McBrayer set up and test a field prototype of the MCS in Bartica, Guyana. Above: The MCS reheats sponge gold.

“We believe that the MCS has the potential to be a big step forward in addressing a global problem, and we are very excited to be part of the solution,” added Dr. Kiefer. “We have assembled a talented team that is fully capable of taking the MCS to the next level and making it a viable solution that eliminates mercury pollution at its source.”

In addition to Dr. Kiefer and Dr. Lackey, members of the team include Dr. Craig McMahan, Dr. Caryn Seney and Sagar Patel at Mercer; Dr. Claudia Vega at the Centro de Innovación Científica Amazónica in the Center for Energy, Environment and Sustainability; Dr. William Pan and Dr. Alex Pfaff at Duke University; Dr. Bridget Bergquist at the University of Toronto; Dr. Ruth Goldstein at the University of Wisconsin-Madison; and Suzette McFaul at SEF Canada Ltd.

“The development of this project is a testament to the power of Mercer On Mission. It’s the only program in the world that brings students and faculty to low- and middle-income countries to solve real-world problems,” said Dr. Lackey. “The team is thankful to Mercer University and private donors who support our work.”

Conservation X Labs, a technology and innovation company that creates breakthroughs and empowers innovators to build ventures that revolutionize conservation, is leading and administering the Challenge. Members of the Artisanal Mining Grand Challenge Global Coalition include the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Microsoft, Centro de Innovación Científica Amazónica, Delve, Conservation International, The Tech Interactive, World Wildlife Fund, Wildlife Conservation Society, Andes Amazon Fund, Amazon Conservation Association, Levin Sources, Pan American Development Foundation, Water, Environment and Human Development Initiative, Resolve, Mongabay, Pure Earth, and the Chambers Federation.