Mining Exploration Technology
Exploration is fundamental to the future growth of the mining industry. It is an important step in finding new deposits so they can be potentially mined.
The reality is that less than one per cent of exploration projects typically progress to establishing a mine. It is even more difficult now days since deposits are deeper and more difficult to find. This is part of the reason why even though there has been an increase in exploration spending, the number of discoveries has remained flat.
Over the years, Latin America has been one of the main global hot spots for exploration spending. It is no surprise considering that the region has the world’s largest reserves of copper, lithium, silver, and gold.
Even for a region that well-endowed in terms of potential, new discoveries are still hard to come by and technology will play a huge part in finding new deposits. In order to be successful, the industry continues to innovate, creating new tools, approaches and techniques.
AI in Mineral Exploration
Over the last 5 years, AI has made its way into the mineral exploration industry, with more companies using machine learning and “explainable AI” to produce better exploration targets, speed up the exploration process, and even act as a virtual consultant.
Machine learning has shown to be a promising tool in processing the overwhelming amount of data collected during exploration and is key to finding these more complex deposits. AI is able to do this by better utilizing training data (maps with known deposits and characteristics) and after having the data cleaned, transformed, interpreted in order to better predict targets. Using AI and machine learning, the software can highlight ore bodies as well as map out these regions with extreme detail.
Goldspot Discoveries Corp is focused on AI-powered target generation. The company gathers data, cleans it, and then using its proprietary AI solutions – tailored to the metal type and location by trained geologists – to recognise patterns that indicate possible mineral locations.
GoldSpot partnered with Yamana Gold in 2018 at its El Penon mine in Chile to find more new mineralization to extend the life of the mine. Using historical mine data such as drill data, geophysical data, geological and geochemistry data, a predictive lithological map was created of the property that helped speed up target definition. Yamana has credited GoldSpot’s technology with improving exploration targeting at El Penon, where it added reserves and resources.
Minerva Intelligence has its TERRA Mining AI. The company offers mineral exploration companies a suite of software and cognitive AI applications designed to organize mineral exploration data, streamline document management, and identify new targets.
By combining AI, geological models, and exploratory data, Minerva’s TERRA AI platform allows mineral explorers to standardize their mining and exploration data. This enables them to find, share and use that data for more sophisticated analytics by either a human or through machine learning and reasoning. As a result, TERRA reduces operating costs and improves returns on investment for mining exploration companies.
The mining industry has been far behind the oil and gas industry in terms of introducing new drilling technologies. There has been very few changes in mineral drilling technology even though drilling generally represents the largest single cost associated with mineral exploration.
Today we are seeing companies miniaturizing technologies and downhole tools that have been used in the petroleum industry so that they can be used in mineral exploration slim holes. Mineral exploration and development costs would substantially decrease if companies could improve the number of drill holes, increase the drilling rate, or reduce the energy requirements for drilling.
In many situations, directional drilling could significantly reduce the number of drill holes required to discover a resource in the ground. New drilling technologies, such as down-hole hammers, turbodrills, in-hole drilling motors, and jet drilling systems, have the potential to increase the drilling rate.
Down-hole logging is a standard technique in petroleum exploration. However, it was rarely used in mineral exploration. The development of down-hole analytical devices, such as spectrometers, would make it possible to conduct in-situ, real-time analyses of trace elements in the rock mass that could dramatically shorten the time required to determine if a drill hole had “hit” or not.
Novamera is developing a technique called Sustainable Mining by Drilling (SMD) which is essentially like keyhole surgery for mining. It uses intelligent sensing systems and precision excavation techniques to take only ore and leave waste rock in the ground. The goal is to use SMD to unlock mineral resources that are uneconomic to mine with conventional methods. The other application is at brownfield and greenfield sites where no existing mining method works, or it’s not compelling enough to attract investment.
Boart Longyear has introduced the TruShot downhole survey technology as an addition to its growing instrumentation offerings. TruShot technology is used to precisely determine the azimuth and dip measurement of the borehole to understand exactly where the hole is located and from where the core is retrieved. From this information, quick and accurate decisions can be made on the eventual locations of the most productive future mineral extraction activities.
IMDEX has a range of tools. For example, its COREVIBE is an energy pulse-assisted drilling method which harnesses water that is being pumped down the drill rod. It is attached to the top of the core barrel which creates a vibration in the core barrel and into the drill bit, delivering a micro-hammering effect and this gives about a 30 per cent increase in drilling productivity.
Another tool from Imdex, is the XTRACTA which a is a retractable core barrel that allows drillers to inspect and/or change the drill bit each time the core is retrieved. There is a production gain because you never have to pull rods to change the bit. It reduces the risk of a hole collapsing and gives the driller chance to be a bit more aggressive and to experiment with drill bit types.
Exploration is critical to discovering new deposits and extending the life of existing mining operations. Mining companies can automate and create more efficient operations, but it would be worthless unless there were good material in the ground to extract.
Applying artificial intelligence and machine learning in the mineral exploration industry is important given the sheer amount of data that geologist need to comb through. By picking better targets, companies can better spend their limited resources on drilling that is more environmentally sustainable, targets deeper deposits, and obtains more downhole data that will improve the chances of hitting meaningful mineralization.
Ax Legal is a legal and business advisory firm that works with foreign companies in Latin America. Our team of legal and commercial advisors have a distinguished track record of helping foreign technology and services companies to grow and operate in Latin America. Over the years, we have worked with starts up, mid-size businesses, and publicly listed companies. The one common factor that connects are clients is that they are leaders in their field, providing innovative technologies and services to the industrial sectors.
To better understand how we can support you in the Region, please contact Cody Mcfarlane at email@example.com