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Challenge Seeks Better Metal Removal Method from Mine Water

Animas River

Animas River at Durango and Silverton rail road crossing (Wikimedia Commons)

7 February 2014. A new challenge on InnoCentive asks for new, less expensive techniques to remove metals from water that drains from mines, both current and inactive. The competition has a total purse of $12,000 and a deadline of 8 March 2014 (free registration required).

InnoCentive in Waltham, Massachusetts conducts open-innovation, crowd-sourcing competitions for corporate and organization sponsors, in this case, Animas River Stakeholders Group in Durango, Colorado. InnoCentive calls this kind of competition an ideation challenge that requires a brief written proposal.

Water draining from mines often contains metals and acids in high concentrations, with most current techniques using lime to treat the wastewater. These current methods, however, produce large amounts of sludge that need a lot of space to store. Disposing of the sludge is expensive, and at least in the Animas River region, difficult to execute because of the high altitude — above 3,030 meters/10,000 feet — and sometimes extreme weather conditions.

The Animas River group is seeking a solution that removes the metals, neutralizes the acid, and removes any waste to meet standards of the U.S. Clean Water Act, at considerably lower cost than today’s methods. The region has many abandoned mines, often with acid mine drainage from sulfide ore deposits.

The sponsors note, however, that water drainage from abandoned mines is a worldwide problem, and solutions proposed in the competition should apply generally, and not just in he area of the Animas River. In the U.S. alone, say the sponsors, draining abandoned mines number in the tens of thousands, often with no responsible party or profitable operations to offset the cost. As a result, taxpayers usually end up paying the clean-up bill.

This type of competition is called an ideation challenge by InnoCentive that it describes as a broad question designed to generate new ideas, something like a worldwide brainstorming session. Proposals are submitted in essay form, usually about two pages in length.

Animas River Stakeholders Group will award $12,000 in prizes, with at least one award no less than $5,000 and no other awards smaller than $2,000. All participants in the challenge will be notified of the status of their submissions, but the sponsor does not plan to provide detailed critiques of individual proposals.

InnoCentive says taking part in the challenge provides the sponsor with a royalty-free, perpetual, and non-exclusive license to use any information included in the participant’s proposal, even for promotional purposes. However, an exclusive transfer of intellectual property rights to the sponsor is not required.

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