Quantum technology provides solace for explorers

LANDTEM uses liquid nitrogen rather than liquid helium cryogenics.

More exploration technologies are being developed to unlock Australia’s hidden deposits. Australian Mining speaks with CSIRO about a popular technology that is opening up possibilities.

Mineral exploration is a key driver that keeps Australia’s mining sector vibrant.

The Australian Government injected $125 million into the expansion of Geoscience Australia’s exploration program in June, on top of a $100.5 million commitment in 2017.   

Queensland also provided a $10 million funding boost for exploration, in addition to bringing forward its $2.8 million budget to the 2020-2021 financial year.

Similar government support has taken place across Western Australia, Victoria and Tasmania, with all states deferring payments and fees to strengthen the mineral exploration sector. It has received the utmost focus from governments in response to the impact of the coronavirus.

Without strong activity in the exploration sector, no discoveries are made and no new projects can be developed.

This commitment from governments is testament to the amount of hidden minerals that are yet to be found in Australia. No minerals are considered too obscure and no orebodies too deep to discourage the flow of investment into exploration.

Australian Government agency CSIRO has gained ground in developing quantum technologies to increase mineral exploration in a productive manner.

Though the exploration aid has been in the market for more than a decade, it is only scratching the surface as there are development challenges that are yet to be overcome through industry partnerships.

CSIRO states that the emerging quantum technology sector could support 16,000 jobs and annually create more than $4 billion in revenue by 2040.

The technology it has developed, known as LANDTEM, has been used by Glencore, Legend Mining, Mincor Resources, Western Areas and Aeris Resources.

BHP, former owner of the Cannington silver mine in Queensland, also used an early LANDTEM field trial on site to provide better delineation of the orebody lodes, accelerating mine development by 18 months.

Since then, LANDTEM has located billions of dollars’ worth of mineral ore discoveries across the globe.

“LANDTEM has been responsible for the discovery of ore deposits valued at more than $6 billion globally, returning over $4 billion to Australia, with mining consultancies acknowledging LANDTEM as the most sensitive tool for exploration on the market,” CSIRO chief scientist Cathy Foley tells Australian Mining.

Aside from being used across Australia, LANDTEM is also popular in Canada’s exploration sector.

LANDTEM applies highly sensitive sensors that are capable of detecting magnetic fields. They are 100 millionth of the size of earth’s magnetic fields.

This makes them ideal for detecting and distinguishing deeply buried, highly conducting orebodies, including nickel sulphide, gold and silver ores. It differentiates the target ore from other material, even for ores buried deep underground.

Russell Mortimer, consulting geophysicist with exploration consultancy Southern Geoscience, agrees with Foley, declaring LANDTEM as the most sensitive tool for exploration on the market.

“The power of this system is that it can detect targets of interest directly at very deep levels that we otherwise would have had no idea about,” Mortimer says.

The development of LANDTEM, which has been in the market for more than 10 years, was result of research undertaken with industry partners after the discovery of a high temperature superconductor in 1987.

Foley says after seeing the first results of CSIRO’s preliminary magnetic sensors, BHP suggested the technology would help with its exploration programs. The agency then turned its attention to developing superconducting magnetic sensors for application in mineral exploration.

“There hasn’t been a major mineral orebody discovery for some time,” Foley says.

“Orebodies will most likely be deeper or in more complex geological situations. These magnetic sensors can differentiate the different geological formations present and can see deeper, down to one kilometre in some cases.”

With LANDTEM allowing for more targeted exploration, mining and exploration companies can realise cost savings through decreased risk in projects and the use of fewer resources to achieve discoveries.

“Clients have indicated that operational exploration costs have been reduced by as much as 30 per cent through the use of LANDTEM,” Foley says.

Another encouraging thing about LANDTEM is its accessibility. The technology is commercially accessible via Perth-based HPEM and Canada’s Crone Geophysics, an instrumentation supplier for mineral exploration and mine development.

These partners are helping move the ambitions of explorers closer to a reality.

This article also appears in the August issue of Australian Mining.

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