At its core, this Project aims to maximise polymetallic recovery from multiple mine waste feedstocks by integrating innovative technology, at a central location, at scale and produce inert waste.
The Project will take place at BKE’s regional processing facility – Broula King, located in Regional NSW, near Cowra. It is here that BKE will create a central hub for the receipting of multi mine waste feedstock types e.g. tailings, mullock and slag.
One of the identified “high risk” Derelict mine sites, as assessed by NSW Government, is Sunny Corner, located between Bathurst and Lithgow – which BKE has secured mineral rights over.
Sunny Corner operated from the 1850s through to the 1920s. At its peak, the mine was the largest silver mine in Australia.
Project 1 – Sunny Corner
BKE is currently working on it’s Sunny Corner Project near Lithgow and Bathurst in NSW.
Sunny Corner is a former mining town, which had a population of around 4,000 people at the time when mining was active. Now, the population has declined to less than 100 in the last census. The township is not the main focus of BKE’s efforts. The mine itself is located approximately one kilometre to the north of the town.
Sunny Corner Legacy
The Sunny Corner mine has left a permanent legacy of pollution and contaminated water and soils. To this day it continues to ooze acid and heavy metals into our environment and ultimately onto our plates. The area of the mine was stripped bare of natural vegetation more than a century ago and now colonizing pine trees have spread through the area killing biodiversity and choking out the natives and massively increasing the fire danger to the local community.
BKE plans to rehabilitate and reclaim the mine site area. First, it is targeting the slag heaps (which contain up to 35 times the level of arsenic in national guidelines). The slag heaps will be taken away from the site and processed in a modern processing plant to produce metals and a stable heavy metal by-product for long term storage.
The area will then be recontoured and planted where possible.
Next, the piles of mullock will be removed, processed and then the area planted.
Ultimately, the aim is to remove the sources of pollution and construct a new landscape and ecosystem similar to the pre-European environment. This will stop the pollution and provide a safe area for the community and animals.
Sunny Corner History
Few people realize that a major silver mine operated at Sunny Corner from the 1850s through to the 1920s. At its peak, the mine was the largest silver mine in Australia, employed 700 people and generated enormous wealth for the people of NSW. The operation was also at the technological forefront of ore processing at this time.
For those who are interested, Vicky Powys wrote an exceptionally good history of the town and the mines in 1989. The book is now out of circulation but Vicky has generously placed an electronic copy of her book on her website. There are several other publications about the area and its history as well.
Processing the ore
There were several companies working at Sunny Corner and processing the ore. Some used the latest smelting technology while others used technology that was hundreds of years old. The main issue was that the ore was complex and the silver was enclosed in minerals called sulphides. Without burning off the sulphur in the minerals, the silver could not be recovered.
Open roasting was used by some companies. This involved stacking the ore in piles on wood and burning them before recovering the silver using gravity methods such as stamper mills or panning. As it burned, the sulphur would turn into acid and carry lead and arsenic fumes into the environment and into the lungs of the workers. Many people became sick or died as a consequence.
Some of the other companies installed furnaces that heated up the ore and allowed the silver to drain to the bottom and be recovered. They used coal, sand and limestone in the furnaces.
The fumes belched out of the chimneys and spread across the land. Acid rain fell on the earth and the smell of garlic associated with arsenic from the ore permeated everything. An estimated 2 tonnes a day of arsenic was pumped out of the smelters for 30 years. The fumes would have choked the lungs, and burnt the eyes and the throat. The toxic metals caused madness, cancer and death.
Pregnant women living nearby could expect increased miscarriages and stillbirths among numerous other side effects. Life at the mine would have been short, brutish and unpleasant.
The toxins remain in the soils around Sunny Corner to this day …. except for those which have already washed away into the rivers and today’s food chains.
There are still other legacies of the smelters and mining that remain today. A by-product of the smelters was the slag poured off the smelting pots. This slag contained the metals that did not go up the smelter chimneys. The metal-laden slag remains today – much as it was 100 years ago.
The slag was stacked in huge piles right next to the smelters and even today nothing grows on it. When acid from the old mines contacts the slag, it dissolves and releases the metals into the environment. These metals go into the waterways from which the cattle and sheep and crops we eat source their life-giving water. As they drink, the metals go into their systems and eventually end up on our plates. Some communities further down the river draw their drinking water from the same waterways.
Sunny Corner is not alone. There are piles of materials like this all around the country oozing toxic waste into our rivers and waterways. BKE has a solution to some of these.
In addition to slag, there are heaps of rock that were not rich enough to process through the smelters a century ago. These heaps (known as mullock), lie around the surface today, untouched in a hundred years. Still, nothing grows on them.
The unfortunate thing is that when rain falls on these heaps, it creates acid which dissolves the metals in the mullock and carries them away in the groundwater and the stormwater.
Even worse, the acid works its way onto and through the slag heaps — collecting more metals and toxins before they are discharged into our waterways. And of course, these are then carried away into our waterways and communities.
Project 2 – Broula King
Key to the success of Sunny Corner was having a nearby, centralised processing facility. The Broula King processing plant offered that solution.
.In December 2020, BKE purchased the Broula King Gold (CIL) processing facility (currently on “care & maintenance”, rated at 120,000 tpa with a TSF.)
BKE is positioned to develop a regional mine waste processing/recycling centre at Broula King, processing polymetallic feedstocks including:-
-Base metal mine wastes (Cu-Pb-Zn) with Au & Ag, and
-Gold mine wastes.
With feedstocks derived from the surrounding region including other businesses under toll treatment agreements, BKE’s intent is to create new commercial activity and regional jobs as well as deliver societal benefits by focusing on Derelict mine rehabilitation. In doing so, BKE will recover critical metals from mine wastes to meet growth in demand driven by Low Carbon Economy technologies, replacing new mine development supply.
To achieve this BKE will adopt, prototype & scale up proven Australian made Leach technology, integrate this and work with Australian experts to develop, systemise, trial & scale-up reclamation and rehabilitation processes and build other centres in Australia and globally.