Sensor and data analysis tools are driving advances in resource characterisation at every scale, a key opportunity for the mining industry and their suppliers to increase their productivity, writes CSIRO Mineral Resources director, JONATHAN LAW.

Article from resourceful: Issue 12 Subscribe to resourceful magazine now

LEADER'S COMMENT

Jonathan Law, Director of CSIRO Mineral Resources

Jonathan Law, Director of CSIRO Mineral Resources

Resource characterisation has always been at the heart of profitable mining. Understanding the nature of the ore and waste – its texture, chemistry and mineralogy – defines the mine plan and process performance, as well as the nature of the remnant waste. So it's no surprise that many performance, productivity and commercial failures have their origins in characterisation problems.

Geoscientists are very familiar with drawing informed inferences based on sub-optimal characterisation datasets – if they didn't, practical mining operations would be untenable.

But, the characterisation landscape is changing rapidly in line with the broader momentum of the digital revolution. Greater data is providing opportunities to fundamentally rethink our approach to the mining value chain.

Technology advances increasing characterisation accuracy at scale

Driving advances are the range of new sensors that can measure both chemistry and mineralogy at a range of scales and provide unprecedented detail and volumes of data that capture the ore variability. It's enabling what I like to think of as the "pixel" effect; as the resolution of the characterisation tools increases, so does our understanding of the underlying complexity of geological systems and orebodies and the impact on decision making.

This new data leads to two important opportunities at different scales. First, the detail provides a tool to optimise performance of small-scale processes like comminution, flotation and chemical processing. Second, the ability to link zones of similar type in ore, provides the option to build orebody models that may open up fundamentally new approaches to mining.

In this edition of resourceful, we cover a suite of new tools that focus on mineralogy, chemistry and 3D architecture in rock samples to illustrate these characterisation opportunities.

Of course, more data does not necessarily mean better outcomes. That's why, the ability to manage and process disparate data streams with a focus on identifying the variables and proxies that have the greatest impact on downstream performance, is a key driver and major focus of our current research.

Used in combination, sensor and data analysis tools are having a major impact on decision making from exploration through to processing. This edition focuses on new mineral systems approaches in exploration, graphite characterisation and new processing options for low grade uranium, as examples of how the industry is reaping rewards from applying these technologies.

Delivering innovation opportunities for METS

It's not just the mining industry, but also its suppliers, who will benefit from advances in characterisation. As highlighted in CSIRO’s recently released Mining Equipment Technology and Services (METS) Roadmap, technology that enables data driven mining decisions is a key growth opportunity for the future.

Rapidly evolving characterisation tools have the ability to disrupt the mining industry and open up new business opportunities for the METS sector. As we have seen happen in other industries, disruption is changing the way companies do business – it will not necessarily be the current large companies that dominate the future world of mining.

The METS Roadmap is a valuable tool for companies seeking to take advantage of new technology opportunities, like characterisation, to secure a competitive advantage in future. Copies of the report are available at: www.csiro.au/METSRoadmap.

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