Zooming in without losing the big picture

A new A$38 million analytical facility to be built in Perth will provide ‘metre-to-atomic scale’ characterisation of ore samples – a world first that will allow industry to be smarter about where and how they mine and process ores. Liz Greenbank reports.

Rapid resource characterisation article from resourceful: Issue 6, March 2014

An example of the Maia Mapper imaging.

Understanding the composition of an orebody during the discovery process not only allows a more informed decision on whether to mine or not, but it also provides information that can make recovery and processing more efficient and productive. The Advanced Resource Characterisation Facility – that will be developed as part of the National Resources Science Precinct in Perth over the next four years – will allow industry to do just that.

The A$38 million facility will provide critical new infrastructure that currently does not exist. The Science and Industry Endowment Fund (SIEF) has provided A$12.4 million.

Dr James Cleverley, Principal Geochemist and Characterisation Specialist, says there is a need for tools that give insight into the chemical composition of orebodies and how it relates to the geological structure, texture and mineralogy of rock.

‘We’re focussed on drill core, the highest quality sample available, so that we can provide data right through the value chain for a resource or project – from exploration to production. This new data will provide insights that will improve productivity through every link of the chain,’ Dr Cleverley says.

Lab-scale Maia Mapper instrument

Announced in November last year by then Minister for Innovation, the Honourable Kim Carr, the facility will build on existing state-of-the-art equipment for geoscience and resource characterisation between CSIRO and its partners Curtin University and the University of Western Australia, and include three new instruments.

‘In bringing a unique and world-leading suite of characterisation facilities together, we are developing a collaborative and workflow approach to sample characterisation, allowing geoscientists to investigate drill core samples down to the atomic scale, without losing contextual information in the process,’ Dr Cleverley says.

‘The benefits of creating such a facility, dedicated to addressing fundamental science questions for Australia’s most important industry, are unparalleled.’

The existing, albeit very rare, instruments – the nanoSIMS and geoscience atom probe will be delivered, installed and commissioned within three years.

The new technology, the Maia Mapper, an x-ray elemental imaging system for chemical mapping, will be a landmark instrument that does not currently exist anywhere else.

The Maia Mapper prototype developed by CSIRO and Brookhaven National Laboratory is currently located at the Australian Synchroton in Melbourne.

‘It uses the synchrotron to produce high definition, quantitative elemental images with microscopic detail in real time,’ Dr Cleverley says.

‘We’re modifying the prototype Maia Mapper to enable it to become rapid access, offering high-definition, large-area imaging in real time. It really is a next-generation technology that will allow us to offer industry analytical services unmatched anywhere in the world.’

Once operational, the laboratory-scale Maia Mapper will be able to create micro-scale elemental maps of 2 centimetre by 1 centimetre rock samples in about six hours, providing an enormous increase in sensitivity, detection limit and spatial resolution over conventional systems.

‘The richness of this information will further our understanding of the processes by which materials are transported and precipitated in geological systems, with fundamental implications for the mineral and petroleum exploration, mining and processing operations of the future,’ Dr Cleverley says.

‘This facility will allow us to reveal the complex chemical and mineralogical nature of ore samples in rapid timeframes allowing industry to make decisions far earlier in the exploration to development cycle than is possible now.'

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