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Cyanco Increases Output to Handle Mining Boom

18 May 2011

The mining boom over the past few years led to a significant expansion for Cyanco’s Winnemucca cyanide production facility.

Cyanco, which is headquartered on Double R Boulevard in South Reno, recently completed mechanical upgrades to increase production capacity at the facility from 40,000 to 70,000 tons of 30-percent sodium cyanide solution per year, company President and Chief Executive Officer John Burrows says.

“The runup in gold prices since the low in 2002 certainly has brought new opportunities to us, mostly in the form of the existing customers that we have increasing the tons of ore they are processing,” he says. “Every ton of ore they process requires a certain fraction of a pound of cyanide. As their tonnage increases their requirement for cyanide increases, and that is a good things for suppliers.”

Additionally, mines such as Allied Nevada’s Hycroft mine have restarted formerly shuttered operations by leaching previously mined ore bodies, which also has increased the need for cyanide.

Northern Nevada mines account for about 75 to 80 percent of Cyanco’s customer base, but the company also ships cyanide to mine sites in several nearby states as well as a handful of mines in Quebec. Shipments of cyanide for domestic customers are handled by TransWood Carriers of Omaha, Neb., which has operated a dedicated terminal in Winnemucca since Cyanco’s inception.

“We are great at producing and supplying the product, but we want transportation professionals to get it out there to the customer,” Burrows says.

Canadian shipments are sent by rail, and a dedicated rail spur hooks into the company’s Winnemucca plant.

Cyanco’s recent expansion was a substantial capital investment that required replacing older parts of the plant designed for lower production rates. Burrows says it is common in the chemical industry for plants to de-bottleneck their equipment to increase chemical production. Cyanco replaced neutralizers and thermal oxidizers, as well increased the plant’s cooling capacity and installed new air blowers.

“It was a substantial capital investment for us — it’s not like we just opened a valve and more product came out,” Burrows says with a laugh. “All of our team did a marvelous job at making this happen.”

Cyanco also plans to open a new cyanide production facility in Alvin, Texas, in the second half of 2012.

Cyanide is manufactured by blending natural gas, ammonia and air (oxygen), which is passed over a platinum catalyst. The gas then is scrubbed with caustic soda, resulting in a 30-percent sodium cyanide solution. For more than 100 years, cyanidation has been the primary method mining companies employ to extract precious metals from raw ore, either by using sprinklers to spray it on massive piles of ore (heap leaching) or in milling.

Because cyanide is a hazardous chemical, it must be handled by well-trained professionals, Burrows says. Workers at Cyanco’s production facility undergo many weeks of classroom training and months of supervised hands-on instruction before being allowed to work without supervision.

“People can be trained for the work,” Burrows says, “but all of our employees have to pass background checks as we are subject to laws that include the Department of Homeland Security.”

Cyanco employs 35 people in Winnemucca, and has five additional employees at its corporate offices. Cyanco began producing cyanide in Winnemucca in 1990, and it added a second plant at the site in 1997.

The company always is looking for top-notch chemical engineers since it takes a certain type of individual to embrace the lifestyle of rural Winnemucca, Burrows says. The company chose to locate in Winnemucca due to the large concentration of gold mines in the surrounding counties. Cyanco owns two full sections of land in Winnemucca that encompass 1,280 acres, and the company runs a round-the-clock operation 365 days a year.

The company is owned by Oaktree Capital Management of Los Angeles, which bought the business in October of 2008 from a joint partnership between Nevada Chemicals Incorporated (formerly Mining Services International) and Degussa, a large German chemical company now known as Evonik.

Cyanco and almost all of the mines in the region adhere to standards set forth by the International Cyanide Management Code, a voluntary industry initiative with oversight by the International Cyanide Management Institute.

“It is really because of sustainability,” Burrows says. “It helps us sustain our business if we can all work together to minimize any negative incidents that happen with chemicals that are being supplied to or used in the mining industry. The mining companies today and the suppliers today have the right focus to make sure that we are doing things to protect the environment.”

Northern Nevada Business Weekly

Written by Rob Sabo