New CSIRO technology for mineral exploration

A new innovation led by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) that enables fast, automated analysis of rock materials directly from drill sites is to be commercialised
New CSIRO technology for mineral exploration New CSIRO technology for mineral exploration New CSIRO technology for mineral exploration New CSIRO technology for mineral exploration New CSIRO technology for mineral exploration

The technology arose out of an idea to analyse the solid matter in fluids that come to the surface during drilling

Ailbhe Goodbody

The organisation stated that this will open the way for millions of dollars’ worth of potential cost and time savings.

The Lab-at-Rig technology that CSIRO has developed in partnership with Imdex and Olympus, under the Deep Exploration Technologies Cooperative Research Centre (DET CRC), enables chemistry and mineralogy of rocks found within a drill hole to be analysed within minutes of drilling.

Dr Yulia Uvarova, CSIRO Lab-at-Rig futures project leader, said: “Lab-at-Rig is an important breakthrough for the industry because of the potentially massive cost savings in drilling, exploration and overall mining operations.”

The new technology features automated analysis of mineralogy and geochemistry of drill hole cuttings direct from the drill site, while still offering the relevant sampling methods and quality control current processes use.

Dr Uvarova explained: “If mining or exploration companies have real-time information about the mineralogy and chemistry in the drill hole they can efficiently plan what to do next; whether that is to drill deeper, drill further holes, try elsewhere or to stop. Ultimately, Lab-at-Rig will provide improved decision making and productivity for mineral resource operations.”

The Lab-at-Rig system, fitted to a diamond drill rig and Imdex's AMC Solids Removal Unit includes: a sample preparation unit that collects solids from drill cuttings and dries them; Olympus X-ray fluorescence and X-ray diffraction sensors to provide chemistry and mineralogy of the sample respectively; and the ability to upload data to REFLEX's cloud-based platform where it can be analysed and provided back to the explorer.

CSIRO stated that this technology will provide a great advantage over the current process which can take three months and often millions of dollars to set up the drill sites, drill, extract, sample and log the drill cores, send to a lab for analysis, enter data into a database and finally provide information back to the company.

CSIRO Yulia Ovarova Lab at Rig

CSIRO’s Dr Yulia Uvarova in the middle of proof-of-concept study for Lab-at-Rig

Lab-at-Rig offers a one-hour cycle for the whole process, enabling rapid decision making and cost savings.

Dr Uvarova noted: “Our 'light bulb' moment was in 2011 when a group of DET CRC researchers were watching a diamond drilling operation near Adelaide and observed the fluid carrying the drill cuttings to the surface. They asked the question: 'what if we could analyse the cuttings separated from that fluid in real time?”

Lab-at-Rig is the product of two years of research and development, and of the successful collaboration of the research and industry partners through the DET CRC, according to Dr Rob Hough, CSIRO's Discovering Australia's mineral resources programme director.

He commented: “The way that Imdex, Olympus and CSIRO have worked together on this through the Deep Exploration Technologies CRC has been crucial to delivering this world-class technology in such a short timeframe.”

REFLEX, a business in the Imdex group of companies, is the commercialisation partner for the technology.

CSIRO, Imdex, Olympus, University of Adelaide and Curtin University are now working on the A$11 million (US$7.7 million) collaborative DET CRC Lab-at-Rig futures project, which will build the next generation system to cover: new sensor technologies, improved data analysis and processing for decision making, and development of the system for new applications and drilling platforms.