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Drill core 'magic' to save millions

CSIRO : 20 March, 2002  (Technical Article)
Australian scientists have developed what is believed to be the world's first automatic system for mapping the minerals in drill cores, with potential to save the mining industry millions of dollars.
The new rapid core logging system developed by CSIRO in collaboration with the mining industry through AMIRA International, applies satellite-based mineral-mapping knowhow to significantly increase the geological knowledge gained from drill cores, chips and powders.

Dr Jon Huntington's team at CSIRO has demonstrated automatic and continuous mapping of the minerals in drill cores at a rate of 500-600 metres per day and a resolution of 1 cm or less, with further scope for improvement.

The technology can also extract new knowledge from the millions of kilometres of core stored in core yards around the world.

'The most exciting thing is the geological information revealed,' says Dr Huntington. 'Detailed knowledge of the mineralogy can contribute to grade control, assessment of mine stability, optimisation of ore processing and improved understanding of ore forming processes.'

The new system has been successfully tested at the Sunrise Gold Mine in Western Australia and will be trialled at Mount Isa and sites in South Australia in the near future

'We've brought our airborne and satellite-based mineral mapping expertise into the core shed', says Dr Huntington. 'It's a classic example of CSIRO quickly adapting its strategic skills to tactical industry problems'.

He envisions complete 3-D models of ore system mineralogy being easily assembled from all drill holes, mine-faces and benches and incorporated into existing 3-D mine visualisation and modelling systems.

While current work is focusing on mine-scale applications, it is easy to see the value of the technology for improving returns from exploration drilling. Operationally this information could be available within just a few hours of completing a drill hole.

At the heart of the system is a sophisticated visible to short-wave infrared reflectance spectrometer that rapidly measures molecular level absorption characteristics of a suite of important alteration and rock-forming minerals.

The system, which can sample drill cores, chips or blast hole powders in their original trays at a rate of 6 cm per second, includes automated tray handling, spectrometer, illumination, safety and high-resolution colour imaging subsystems.

The multi-disciplinary research team behind the successful new technology includes geologists, engineers, algorithm and software developers and statisticians from CSIRO Exploration and Mining and CSIRO Mathematical and Information Sciences. Funding is being provided by a group of seven mining companies, CSIRO itself through its 'Glass Earth' initiative, and the Cooperative Research Centre for Predictive Mineral Discovery.
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