May 25, 2022

These Thirteen Innovations Could Clean Artisanal Mining in the Amazon

Thirteen teams developing technologies to clean up small-scale mining operations are competing for a prize of (USD) $1 million in the Artisanal Mining Grand Challenge: The Amazon. The solutions fall into four categories: cleaner mining tools, such as mercury-free methods of extracting gold from ore; restoration and remediation, which includes devices that strip heavy metals from water; monitoring and actionable data, including tools for reporting pollution and bad practices in progress; and supply chain solutions that can prove the sustainable provenance of gold as it changes hands on the way to the consumer.

See the finalists in a beautiful interactive display at the Challenge’s site.

Finalists of the Challenge will receive seed funding to field test and develop their innovations alongside local partners and organizations working in the Amazon region through the Amazon CoLab, a six-month acceleration program. The Challenge administrators will announce the winners and award additional cash prizes to the highest performing solutions in late 2022.

The teams are fighting a little-known problem with high environmental and humanitarian stakes. Small-scale mining operations in the Amazon and around the world are dumping heavy metals into waterways and clear-cutting forests while supplying about 20 percent of the gold found in jewelry, electronics, and other consumer products. Banning those businesses, if it were possible, would strip the income from some of 15 million people worldwide, many of them in economically vulnerable communities. Cleaning up the mining operations might work, however, and the Challenge has selected 13 teams with technologies that could help.

The teams were selected from a pool of 121 applications from 22 countries, and more than half of the applications came from countries in the Amazon.

Panels of reviewers with expertise in mining, conservation science, and entrepreneurship reviewed the applications and selected the finalists based on the criteria of value proposition, sustainability, impact, and feasibility.

“The goal was to find effective solutions for artisanal and small-scale mining in the Amazon – home to the largest tropical forest in the world, with some of the greatest biodiversity on the planet, and where many indigenous communities live,” Alex Dehgan, CEO and Co-Founder of Conservation X Labs, said in a statement. “We are excited to support innovators, researchers, and entrepreneurs in developing and implementing their innovations and technology for conservation.”

We at Engineering for Change are proud ambassador partners supporting the Challenge. We’re also implementation partners helping to run the Amazon CoLab.

Can you spot E4C? Two members of the E4C team met with partners working on Amazon CoLab in Puerto Maldonado, Peru, in April 2022. Here are the details.

More about the Challenge

The first round of the Artisanal Mining Grand Challenge took place between 2019 and 2020, and awarded solutions that could be applied to any metal or mineral, anywhere in the world. Prize winners received a total of $750,000 USD in funding, and six teams were selected to develop and test their innovations with partners in the Amazon region through the Amazon CoLab.

“The Artisanal Mining Grand Challenge: The Amazon” launched in 2021 and was open to a global community of innovators. The Challenge solicited solutions to safeguard ecosystems, protect human health, optimize responsible supply chains, and promote the formalization of miners to achieve social and environmental safeguards. Conservation X Labs runs the Challenge in partnership with the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Microsoft, and Esri.


Leave a Reply

Join a global community of changemakers.

Become A Member