Instrumental Access 2020
University of Mines and TechnologyDepartment of Minerals Engineering
In Ghana, training a workforce for the mining industry
Meet our Awardee
The University of Mines and Technology (UMaT) was established as a four-year university in 2004 after more than 50 years of history as a technical institute. Situated at the center of Ghana's mining industry gives the university a unique option to partner with the minerals extraction, construction, chemical, environmental, biotechnology, and waste processing industries.
One of UMaT's goals is to increase the number of women working in these traditionally male-dominated industries, especially in leadership positions. Currently, women hold about 10-15 percent of leadership positions at mining companies; through dedicated recruitment, the school hopes to increase that number to 30 percent over the next 10 years.
The Department of Minerals Engineering is part of the Faculty of Mineral Resources Technology and has about 500 students enrolled in undergraduate and graduate degree programs.
Research AreasThe university focuses its research on mining and related industries, including environmental monitoring and management, sustainable mining practices, mineral processing, environmental biotechnology, mine water management, geometallurgy, materials engineering, and industrial waste management.
Getting the Most Out of Gold: Grace Ofori-Sarpong, PhD
Professor Grace Ofori-Sarpong, PhD, Dean of the School of Postgraduate Studies at UMaT, was drawn to research and science through the inspiration of those closest to her.
Her mother and father were teachers and her brother a mining engineer. During school, she was especially interested in math, and as she learned about the dearth of female leaders in engineering, she was inspired to become one of them.
Professor Ofori-Sarpong's research is focused on gold processing techniques. Gold production has increased 700 percent in the past 20 years in Ghana and now makes up more than a third of the country’s national exports.
But the process of mining and purifying gold is risky for both workers and the environment. Once rocks are removed from mines, they are crushed and ground to a powder. Refining that powder to just gold requires leaching reagents like cyanide.
Refractory gold ore—which makes up about 30 percent of the gold mined in Ghana—is especially hard to treat and remove. Some methods for doing so produce toxic acidic gas. The process is so difficult that some companies don’t even mine it.
For the past few decades, miners have used bacteria that can digest certain minerals to separate the gold. The bacteria “chew the sulfides, literally,” says Professor Ofori-Sarpong, “to gain energy for their own cells.” But the method is less than ideal. It’s slow and sometimes incomplete, she says, and the bacteria need to be fed additional nutrients.
To improve on this process, Professor Ofori-Sarpong is looking to fungi, which have been proven to work in paper making and in coal mining. Her research suggests fungi may have the ability to more efficiently and effectively remove gold from ores by separating it from the types of materials that bacteria can leave behind.
But her research has been on hold for several years, as she is unable to proceed without specialized equipment. The Instrumental Access award will allow Dr. Ofori-Sarpong to pick this research back up. And the 500 students in the department can more effectively prepare for careers with hands-on training in the lab.
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About the DepartmentLocation: Tarkwa, Ghana
Year Established: 1987
Students Impacted Annually: 700 undergraduate, 100 graduate
Why Instrumental Access?As a young university, UMaT has limited resources to fully outfit its labs. Equipment from Instrumental Access would allow more hands-on educational opportunities for students, particularly in their microbiology practical lab sessions.
Shipment StatusEn route to Ghana
About Instrumental Access
To begin, we identify a pipeline of scientific talent. Then we rigorously screen universities and select those with the most potential to advance education and research through Instrumental Access.