Thanks to an analytical system that brings the laboratory to the drill site, greenfield explorers can now make multi-million dollar decisions in minutes rather than months. TONY HESELEV reports

Article from resourceful: Issue 9, March 2016.



A new system, known as Lab-at-Rig, is just one of the important breakthrough innovations recently made available to industry to dramatically reduce the cost of exploration.

By enabling explorers to analyse the chemistry and mineralogy of rocks within minutes of drilling, Lab-at-Rig cuts costs while improving effectiveness.

As part of the technology, data obtained from drillhole cuttings can be streamed directly and almost immediately to meet the specific needs of the geologist or miner.

Complex mineralogical and geochemical zoning can be identified in real time at a level of detail and consistency not captured by traditional geological logging – which is subjective, inconsistent, qualitative and time consuming.

The Lab-at-Rig technology was developed by a CSIRO-led team, including private sector partners Imdex Limited and Olympus, within the Deep Exploration Technologies Cooperative Research Centre (DET CRC).

The initial system is designed for diamond drilling operations and collects cuttings separated from drilling fluids in a solid removal unit, at the back of which composite mud is sub-sampled, dried and x-rayed by sensors that deliver data on the chemistry and mineralogy of samples.

The prototype is mounted on a trailer for ease of mobilisation. It’s being commercialised by REFLEX (a business in the ASX-listed Imdex group), with the aim of making it available to the market.

The fully developed system will be mobile, small and light, and have little environmental impact.

CSIRO’s Dr Yulia Uvarova in the middle of proof-of-concept study for Lab-at-Rig®

"The technology delivers quantitative, consistent and objective data, and is a major development in terms of efficiency and productivity," project leader from CSIRO, Dr Yulia Uvarova says.

"Real-time delivery of Lab-at-Rig data allows mineral explorers to log downhole geology and validate exploration targets during the drilling process, informing decisions such as whether to terminate or extend drillholes or to modify the location or trajectory of subsequent holes.

"Such decisions, made in a timely manner, can result in highly significant cost savings."

According to Dr Uvarova, other benefits of the technology are:

  • reduced mobilisation and camp costs
  • reduced cost per analysis
  • rapid turnover of targets and tenements
  • reduced likelihood of near misses
  • drilling programs can be monitored at any location
  • fast tracking of discovery rate and conversion of a prospect to a mine.

Fluid analysis will be used to optimise drilling operations and further increase efficiency.

The system will be fully automated, so operator training will be minimal and specialists will not be needed to run it.

The project is one of several sponsored and coordinated by the DET CRC that helps explorers analyse ore deposits buried deep under cover.

The technology was developed after DET CRC researchers observed a diamond drilling rig operating near Adelaide. They realised that the drilling fluids were carrying cuttings to the surface, and these cuttings, which were previously regarded as waste, could be analysed in real time using top-of-hole analytical systems, turning them into a valuable resource.

A key to the project's success has been how the DET CRC has brought together expertise from geologists, geochemists, engineers and end-user representatives from mining houses and service providers.

"We put together our partnerships carefully," DET CRC’s Professor David Giles says.

"All projects have an industry 'mentor' who engages with our science steering committee. The relationship between the participants is very close."

The project is being further developed to work in very thick cover to analyse basement samples using coil tube drilling.

The next generation system will also include new sensor technologies and improved data analysis.

It's being developed as part of a four-year, $11 million collaborative project between CSIRO, Imdex, Olympus, University of Adelaide, Curtin University and the DET CRC.

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