Aussie research centre to boost exploration

The new MinEx Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) is dedicated to developing a more sustainable and productive minerals industry for Australia
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One of the research areas is coiled-tubing drilling

Staff reporter

PRESS RELEASE: Supported by A$50 million (US$38 million) from the federal government and more that A$150 million in cash and in-kind support from industry, the new CRC aims to deliver more effective, safe and environmentally friendly drilling technologies linked to in-field sensing and real-time data analytics.

A significant component of MinEx CRC, which replaces the Deep Exploration Technologies CRC, will be deployment of the new technologies in an Australia-wide drilling programme, which will collect mineral exploration data on never-before-sampled rocks that are hidden but prospective for minerals. 

University of South Australia deputy vice chancellor, Professor Tanya Monro, said the MinEx CRC is an excellent example of how universities can play a core role in delivering vital outcomes for the nation that are clearly focussed resolving industry challenges.

UniSA will host the South Australian node of the MinEx CRC at its Mawson Lakes campus.

The structure of the new CRC links industry end-users through innovative service and supply chain companies to research organisations. This provides a direct pathway to impact for fundamental research.

Chief scientific officer for the MinEx CRC and John Ralston chair in Minerals and Resources Engineering at UniSA’s Future Industries Institute, Professor David Giles said the goal is to drive a revolution in minerals exploration.

“In the Australian context, the cost of exploration for new deposits has risen over the past 30 years and our success rate has declined,” Giles commented.

“We need to improve our performance if mineral resources are to continue their significant contribution to the Australian economy.  Mineral resources contributed about 50% of Australia’s exports and about 10% of our GDP in 2015-16.”

Three key areas of research include new drilling technologies such as coiled-tubing drilling, which promises to drill deeper and deliver targeted and higher-quality sampling.

Once perfected, coiled-tubing technology promises drilling exploration at about 1/6th of the cost of traditional diamond drilling. In the meantime, the CRC will also work to find ways to optimise the performance of existing drilling technologies.

Another key area of research combines drilling and data collection. The CRC will focus of capturing geochemical, petrochemical and seismic data during drilling, developing specialised software that can integrate data collected into 3-D geological models in real time.

Perhaps most significantly, long-term the CRC aims to deploy novel drilling technologies in collaboration with Australia’s geological surveys together mapping the deep cover search space providing geological data never before available to earth scientists.

This information will deliver sophisticated datasets of rock properties in real time. The information will be invaluable to geologists but will also provide industry with significant information to help them assess the risks of mining exploration across the country.

Giles said about 7% of the budget for the CRC would be invested in securing future skills for the mining industry by supporting about 50 PhD researchers and establishing a vocational education and training programme focussed on the implementation of new technologies in mineral exploration.

The MinEx CRC partners include major mining companies (Anglo-American, Barrick, BHP and South32), mining equipment technology and service (METS) companies (Atlas Copco, Geotec Boyles, HiSeis, Imdex, Mackay Drilling, Olympus, Sandvik and Wassara), geological survey organisations (Geoscience Australia and the Geological Surveys of South Australia, Western Australia and New South Wales) and research organisations (University of Adelaide, Curtin University, University of Newcastle, University of Western Australia and the CSIRO).