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Slag reclamation could net company billions

Cottonwood Journal Extra of Cottonwood, Arizona

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A Nevada-based company is making progress in its efforts to reclaim usable metals from the large siag pile in Clarkdale.

A fixture in the area for years, the slag pile was left behind when the rich copper mining operation up the mountain in Jerome ended, and Clarkdale smelter operations ceased in 1947.

The giant pile covers a 45-acre area and is estimated to weigh around 20.2 million tons.

Engineers have estimated that within the slag pile, there is still around a half-ounce of gold per ton, along with silver, copper, zinc and a ferro silicate byproduct.

The gold alone would be worth $16.72 billion based on the price Saturday, Dec. 29, though the project to extract the precious metals is expected to take years.

While the technology to make the metals trapped inside the slag useful wasn't around decades ago, it has come a long way since then.

Searchlight Minerals has been working on the project since 2008 when it renovated a 26,000 square-foot building and started to set up the machines needed for the extraction process, including conveyor systems, a vibratory mill, leaching tanks, filter presses, ion exchange systems and various other laboratory equipment.

The process involves grinding up the slag and using the equipment to break the component materials down into individual elements.

The company announced last week that it has successfully started a pilot autoclave system, a machine that uses intense heat and pressure to help the process along.

The company has been testing the autoclave at a facility in Colorado where in just one run, the machine produced 170 gallons of pregnant leach solution from 230 pounds of slag.

The solution is an acidic liquid that is instrumental in the process of eventually separating gold and other metals out of the pile. .

The company plans to continue testing the autoclave system through the first quarter of 2013 with the goal of creating an optimal commercial-scale autoclave system.

The company believes that these systems will definitely allow the recovery of gold from the pile with the hopes that a feasibility study will eventually show this project to be profitable.

The company has also hired two men full-time to help move the process along, Richard Kunter, a senior metallurgist and Doug Aho, an autoclave process engineer.

"We are very excited about the start-up of the pilot autoclave and our ability to produce [pregnant leach solution] in larger quantities," said, Martin Oring, the company's CEO. "We are also very encouraged that Mr. Kunter and Mr. Aho, both of whom have been intimately involved in our autoclave test work as consulting engineers over the past two years, have expressed their confidence in our project by joining the company's technical team on a full-time basis."

The company hopes to initially process 150 to 200 tons of slag per day and eventually increase processing to 2,000 tons per day.

Whether the project will ultimately be worthwhile remains to be seen, but the company exudes confidence to its shareholders.

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Original Publication Date: January 2, 2013

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