Zinc isotopes found in manganese crust samples of soils and termite mounds in the Pilbara, Western Australia, can be used by mineral explorers to find hidden deposits of critical metals necessary to support the transition to low emission energy technologies.

The challenge

Critical metals to support low emission technologies

Red termite mound showing blue metallic surface around base.

The demand for base metals like nickel and cobalt is increasing in step with the production of the new low emission technologies like electric vehicles and battery technologies to store renewable energy.

Ensuring a secure supply of these key commodities is crucial to support the transition to a low emission future.

With a wealthy mineral endowment, Australia is in an advantageous position to respond to this global appetite for base metals and secure supply through the discovery of new deposits.

Our response

Sub-atomic analyses

To help exploration companies reduce risk and target new deposits more precisely, we've harnessed our expertise in orebody mineralisation systems to test out theorised associations between pathfinder elements and hidden deposits.

Using mass spectrometry, we applied sub-atomic analyses to understand the distribution of zinc isotopes i.e. variations of the same element which differ in the number of neutrons in the atom, in samples of manganese crust.

Working with samples originating from a known area of polymetallic deposits of zinc, cobalt, nickel and vanadium in the southern Pilbara region of Western Australia, we found that anomalies is the isotopic signature of zinc were associated with underlying mineralisation.

Patches of manganese crust on the soil surface, seen as dark metallic blue areas. Zinc isotopes found in these crusts can be used to identify what metal deposit lies deep underground.

The results

Cutting edge tools and techniques for 21st century exploration

Our results from the Pilbara study showed that heaver zinc isotopes preferentially fractionated around areas of known polymetallic deposits.

This gives mineral explorers another technique to survey broader environments and more accurately target new deposits.

These finding were published in the journal Chemical Geology , and our expertise is available for our partners to use in exploration.

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