Eco-Friendly Gold Extraction: How Cornstarch is Revolutionizing the Mining World

Is there an eco-friendly way to extract gold?Mining gold has never been considered an environmentally friendly process. In order to get gold out of the earth, extremely toxic cyanides are sprayed on crushed ore to help with the extraction process. While effective, using cyanides regularly leads to environmental contamination, making this a less than ideal method of mining gold. However, up until now, all of the alternatives were either too expensive to consider or they had serious contamination concerns of their own. A recent discovery, though, identified cornstarch as a viable option in making the process of gold extraction much better for the Earth.

The role of cornstarch in gold mining

Cornstarch is an inexpensive, relatively common household product that is typically used to thicken up sauces and soups. Researchers determined that cornstarch could be used to extract gold, even when other metals were present. In addition, there is potential for this new process to get gold out of consumer electronic waste as well. It is important to note, however, that there are several ingredients involved in the process in addition to cornstarch.

An unexpected discovery

The discovery happened as researcher Zhichang Liu attempted to make a cubic structure that would hold small molecules and gases. As he worked, he used two aqueous solutions. One came from alpha-cyclodextrin, which is starch-derived, and the second came from gold salt. Liu combined the two solutions and the result was the formation of small needles rather than the cubes that Liu wanted to create. The researcher, however, was intrigued; his experiment then took a different turn as he decided to look closely at the needles to figure out what they were.

The impact of Liu’s research

Liu went on to do further research, combining a variety of complexes with aqueous solutions. When all was said and done, he figured out that alpha-cyclodextrin was able to isolate gold very effectively. Alpha-cyclodextrin is made up of six glucose units and happens to be a cyclic starch fragment. Researchers were excited by the discovery; removing cyanide from the gold mining process means that extraction can take place in an environmentally friendly way. As a bonus, the new solution is also inexpensive, making it a viable option going forward.

When people hear the words “eco-friendly,” they generally think about green cleaning solutions, carpooling to work or changing their lightbulbs. However, mining gold could soon join the list, a development that comes as a surprise to researchers and miners alike. While using cornstarch to extract gold is not something that anyone could have predicted, the fact that it is affordable and much less harmful to the environment than cyanide has the mining industry buzzing.

Image credit: James St. John, courtesy flickr


EarthTalk: National Food Policy

EarthTalk® is a weekly environmental column made available to our readers from the editors of E/The Environmental Magazine

Is it time for a National Food Policy to curb obesity and Type-2 Diabetes? Dear EarthTalk: What is the “National Food Policy” that environmentalists and foodies are asking President Obama to enact by Executive Order, and how would it affect American diets? - Justin Brockway, Los Angeles, CA

A November 2014 op-ed piece in The Washington Post entitled How a National Food Policy Could Save Millions of American Lives makes the case for President Obama to sign into law an executive order establishing a national food policy for managing the nation’s food system as a whole.

Authored by food writers Mark Bittman and Michael Pollan, along with Union of Concerned Scientists’ Ricardo Salvador and United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter, the op-ed states that because of unhealthy diets, a third of our kids will develop Type 2 diabetes—a preventable disease that was formerly rare in children.

“Type 2 diabetes is a disease that, along with its associated effects, now costs $245 billion, or 23 percent of the national deficit in 2012, to treat each year,” the authors note. “The good news is that solutions are within reach—precisely because the problems are largely a result of government policies.” The authors cite Brazil and Mexico—countries they consider “far ahead of the United States in developing food policies”—as examples for positive change: “Mexico’s recognition of food as a key driver of public health led to the passage last year of a national tax on junk food and soda, which in the first year has reduced consumption of sugary beverages by 10 percent and increased consumption of water.”

While the White House has not responded in any way to the suggestion thus far, the article’s message that the current food system has caused “incalculable damage” remains alarming.

Whether or not to pass our own tax on junk food and soda in the U.S. has been the subject of much debate in recent years. Some say it’s deceitful to suggest that a tax on sodas is necessary to curb obesity and Type 2 diabetes when numerous other unhealthy options like sugary caffeinated beverages, candy, ice cream, fast food and video games that promote sedentary behavior would still be widely available. A 2009 study published in the Journal of Public Economics suggests that soft drink taxation leads to a moderate reduction in soft drink consumption by children and adolescents; however “this reduction in soda consumption is completely offset by increases in consumption of other high-calorie drinks.” Furthermore, in 2010, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg stated that “an extra 12 cents on a can of soda would raise nearly $1 billion,” which suggests that government officials expect people to continue buying soda despite the tax.

Even though passing a soda tax has proven to be controversial, The Washington Post op-ed clearly points out the federal government’s contradictions concerning food. Existing federal guidelines for the U.S. diet, known as MyPlate, recommend that half the food we eat should be fruits and vegetables, yet these foods are granted less than one percent of farm subsidies. Meanwhile, more than 60 percent of subsidies go toward corn and other grains. The result, the op-ed states, is the “spectacle of Michelle Obama warning Americans to avoid high-fructose corn syrup at the same time the president is signing farm bills that subsidize its production.”

EarthTalk® is written and edited by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss and is a registered trademark of E – The Environmental Magazine.

Image credit: SteFou, courtesy flickr

The Increased Popularity and Necessity of Sustainable Homes

By Bob Gorman

Homeowners are awakening to the need for more sustainable homesThe housing market is starting to bounce back with full force, but it’s certainly never going to be the same. Consumers have learned their lesson, and the market will show it.

For too many years, home sizes and their accompanying energy demands have just kept growing and growing without regard to the effect on the environment. After the housing crash, consumers had an awakening, and now sustainable homes will be the future of the real estate market.

Not too long ago, LEED and Energy Star rated homes were just an occasional oddity. However, sustainable homes are quickly becoming mainstream. Long gone are energy wasting McMansions and unaffordable home loans. From here on out, homeowners will want low utility bills, water savings, and reasonable sized houses.

Energy savings

Homeowners, businesses, and consumers have started to accept that our nation is facing an energy crisis that will never go away. There simply isn’t enough oil to last future generations, coal is becoming more difficult to mine, and solar isn’t a stand-alone option without significant increases in battery technology.

Sustainable homes incorporate many small changes, which are generally unnoticeable to the homeowner, for big energy savings. According to Boutique Homes, simply building homes to face south, creating HVAC systems with zone control, using LED light bulbs, open design for flow-through ventilation and using better insulation add almost no cost to construction while creating massive energy savings for homeowners.

Wise water use

Today, sustainable homes need wise water management to be appealing to consumers. After all, aquifers are drying up, droughts continue to get worse, and our water needs only going to rise.

Thankfully, over the years, technology has been able to catch up with our dire need to save water. Long gone are the days of underperforming low flow toilets and disappointing water saving faucets.

However, sustainable homes try to take their water saving ability beyond smart bathroom fixtures. When planned carefully, rainwater can be harvested, shower water can be used to flush toilets, and water from washing machines can irrigate gardens.

Additionally, homeowners are more open to xeriscapes than ever before. Gravel yards are a thing of the past. Landscape design options can seamlessly blend attractive water saving greenery into any neighborhood.

Smaller homes

The tiny house movement is here to stay, and while ultra small homes under are not likely to become mass produced anytime soon, the philosophy is spreading.

More and more homeowners want a reasonably sized home along with the environmentally friendly benefits and financial freedom that come with one. As a result, average home sizes are dropping, sometimes drastically. In fact, several developments of tiny apartments and compact homes are popping up across the nation.

Use of alternative energy

For a home to be considered sustainable today, use of alternative energy is a must. In most climates, either solar or wind is an option. Smart home design coupled with the use of alternative energy can even create an ultra-green home that can essentially function off the grid.

Financial incentives

For a long time now, homeowners have been offered rebates by utility companies or government agencies for upgrading their homes to be more energy efficient. However, retrofitting homes isn’t ideal as it’s an unaffordable expense for many. Recognizing that more sustainable homes need to be built, but that green building needs to be financially affordable, multiple financial incentives are available for LEED or Energy Star certified homes.

The future of the real estate market is just as clear as our need for a greener future. Sustainable homes will be demanded by consumers. Besides the positive effect on the environment, homeowners also enjoy lower utility bills and the satisfying feeling of preserving nature for future generations.


Image credit: Dominic Alves, courtesy flickr



Net Zero Home: An Affordable Green Option for Homeowners

There is a new competitor for certified green homes in Utah, known as Net Zero certified homes. Zero Home, the first of these eco-friendly Utah residences, is totally green, energy efficient and completely certified.

What Makes Zero Home Unique?

Save money and resources with a net zero homeWith amenities such as geothermal heating, special green-conscious insulation, special cooling and heating units, and solar technologies, many green homes are popping up all over the country. Zero Home, however, takes things just a few steps further.

If you simply look at it quickly, it is difficult to see what sets Zero Home apart from all the rest. However, a more in-depth examination tells a different story. Zero Home has heating and cooling units in and around the property, numerous solar panels on the roof, and a number of other features that will make any environmentally conscious homeowner happy. There is even an outlet in the garage, specifically designed for an electric car. Best of all, it is functional, practical, affordable, and energy efficient!

Why Purchase a Net Zero Home?

The competition for new homes is fierce, and many contractors who build energy efficient properties have been established for a number of years. While there are small differences between them all, the end result is typically the same; the buyer receives a green property built to their specifications, but it comes at a substantial cost.

The price for these homes is high, primarily because interested homeowners generally have to work with a custom builder. It is not unusual for someone to spend close to a million dollars, or more, to get the green home of their dreams. That high price tag means that many other environmentally conscious individuals, who would like to have a green home, are excluded from the buying process.

However, Net Zero homes are affordable. Designed to be reproduced on a vast scale, again and again, the price tag associated with these green homes is similar to a purely conventional home. While all the extra features do raise the price somewhat, it doesn’t get out of control because there is no custom builder involved. And, because these homes are so energy efficient, they can save the homeowner money over time.

Net Zero Homes, with their new mass produced certified green homes line, is the newest wave of the future in affordable green, energy efficient homes. It may soon be possible to find these green properties in other areas across the country as well, like in the Glen Head real estate market. One thing, however, is certain: with their functional and sleek designs, awesome energy efficiency, and other various amenities, Net Zero homes stand head and shoulders above their competition.

Image Credit: Green Energy Futures, courtesy flickr

Easy Ways to Save Energy at Work

By Karen Canas

energy-conservation-workplaceSaving energy isn’t always about huge changes. You don’t have to be a city planner or engineer installing a hydrodelectric dam to make a big difference in energy consumption. One of the best ways you can be a smart energy user is to take your regular practices to work.

Whether you work in an office building, a school or an industrial power plant, chances are good you can make changes and get your co-workers on the bandwagon to conserve energy like never before. Taking the time to make a few small changes in your workplace can make a huge difference in the long run, reports.


Recycling plays a huge role in developing sustainable cities, towns and economies. Talk to your supervisor about starting a recycling program at your workplace, if one isn’t already in place. Then talk to others. Networking is a great way to get your co-workers excited about this kind of project.

One great way to encourage recycling is to have contests to see which office/classroom/etc. can set aside the most recyclable materials. Make it fun, keep it interesting, and keep people aware about what they can and can’t recycle. Once the ball is rolling, it’s easy to sustain.

Universities are creating specific departments that offer incentives, perks and contests to encourage students to aim for zero-waste policies. For example, the Office of Sustainability at the University of Arkansas offered cash prizes for organizations who recycled on campus. Use this example to encourage co-workers to follow suit.


Depending on the role you play in your office, this aspect of sustainability and energy savings may or may not be outside the scope of something you can impact. But an effective maintenance program in your workplace can save thousands of dollars on power every year and conserve as much energy as possible using the resources you already have.

Think of it like this. Little things such as making sure the HVAC units are running smoothly and as intended can save hundreds every month on power bills. Replacing ordinary light bulbs with more energy-efficient halogen or LED lights can also make a big difference. Replacing just one light bulb with an Energy Star efficency-rated bulb in every American home would collectively save $600 million dollars per year, reports. Think about how much could be saved if every office did the same thing.

Installing movement-sensitive light switches is both convenient (lights come on hands-free) and energy-efficient (you can’t forget to flip the switch off when you leave the room). This type of system can save huge amounts of power, especially in office buildings, classrooms and other spaces where many people work.

Making a difference at your workplace might mean something as big as impacting the upkeep of the AC system or as mundane as encouraging your co-workers to throw scrap paper in the recycle bin instead of into the trash.

Regardless of the type of role you play, taking some of the energy-saving practices you use at home to be used in your workplace can make a big difference in energy consumption.


Karen writes about environmental issues facing communities across the West

Image credit: UofSLibrary via Flickr