September 23, 2017

How Technology Continues to Revolutionize Mineral Exploration

Advances in technology and mineral exploration have always walked hand-in-hand. A great deal of major mineral discoveries in the 1950s can be attributed to newfound geophysical and geochemical advances introduced by private and public interests alike, forging new partnerships in research and development for the common good.

“Mineral explorers are looking for ways to take more risk out of discovery. With tighter budgets and risk-averse shareholders, they want to make full use of available resources and data to improve the potential of their projects. And they are merging proven science with technological innovation to do this,” said Tim Dobush, President and CEO of Geosoft, in a report last year.

Major advances like tomographic imaging and GPS technologies, both created for other purposes, have benefited the mineral speculation and mining industries when applied to mineral exploration. Research in basic geological sciences, geophysical and geochemical methods, and drilling technologies has improved the exploration and extraction process. Development of the materials and design of mining facilities has created variety and opportunity for more effective, productive operations.

Since significant data is lacking about the formation processes of metallic and nonmetallic ore deposits, detailed geologic mapping has been key to discovering major gold and copper deposits. New mineral discoveries have prompted progress in geological sciences and modeling, including critical baseline studies to collect important climatological, hydrological, and mineralogical data. Despite this progress, the wealth of data that has been collected by individual mining districts is not widely available, since it is primarily in hard copy (paper). As this data is converted to digital formats, geoscientists can better process it, with the state-of-the-art analytical tools now available to them.

Geochemical prospecting involves analysis of natural resources on-site to identify any hidden ore deposits, and advances in geophysical and geochemical methods has resulted in increased discovery. The equipment, techniques and analytical technology used for modern geochemical and geophysical prospecting has become increasingly sophisticated in recent years. New technologies such as portable X-ray fluorescence, laser fluorescence scanning, cross-borehole seismic tomography, geophysical surveying by drone, and hyper-spectral technologies have significantly benefited mineral exploration. These and other technologies significantly increase productivity and reduce the invasiveness of mineral exploration efforts.

Of course, nearly all mineral exploration efforts require drilling in order to identify mineral deposits below the surface. Although there have been remarkable advancements in drilling technology for petroleum and geothermal materials, few changes have been made to mineral drilling technology and techniques. However, novel drilling technologies are being tested. While hundreds of drill holes may be required to map and evaluate the quality of an orebody, efforts are underway to either reduce the number of drill holes, increase the rate of drilling, or reduce energy requirements. Any of these would significantly reduce costs. Some of the novel drilling technologies under consideration for successfully increasing the drilling rate include down-hole hammers, turbo drills, in-hole drilling motors, and jet drilling systems.

Advancements in facilities and operations have led to safer and more effective mining operations. For example, cutting-edge tensioned fabric buildings provide the critical support for maintaining and improving logistics and labor operations onsite. These fabric buildings and mining operational facilities are constructed with double-engineered polyvinyl-chloride fabric materials and high-strength galvanized steel frames. These buildings offer the necessary shelter and protection that mining personnel require in the extreme environments where mining sites are often located. Fabric structures, as compared with brick-and-mortar facilities, are also more customizable to fit the needs of unique sites. Some are highly portable, while being durable enough to withstand extreme temperatures, wind, rain, and snow loads. These high-strength structures are also energy efficient, and meet or exceed local building codes.

Mineral exploration and mining itself have seen significant advancements in technology and technique for most aspects of the industry’s processes, but additional improvement is certainly needed. These developments in geological sciences, geophysical and geochemical methods, drilling technologies, and even mining buildings and facilities have resulted in great progress, which must continue if mineral exploration is to proceed efficiently into the future.

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