Blog icon

By  Keirissa Lawson 29 September 2023 2 min read

Key points

  • Kaolinite is the most widespread clay mineral in Australia and is commonly used in pottery, building and beauty products.
  • Kaolinite particles can adsorb metals from the environment trapping precious metals like gold.
  • We've developed a technique to analyse ultrafine particles of the clay and reveal where precious metals and critical minerals may be found.


Dr Ryan Noble recommends the skin softening properties of a kaolinte clay mask as well as the analysis of ultrafine kaolinite clay particles when on the hunt for gold and critical minerals.

Clay. It’s been used for centuries to make pottery, decorative beads, and earthen houses. And it has a firm spot in many beauty regimes.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples use it in traditional medicines, and as a natural pigment and for body paint.

Your kids may even be having fun with it during the school holidays.

But clay could also be used to discover gold and the critical minerals so vital for the energy transformation.

Kaolinite, the king of clays

Kaolinite is a white clay mineral. It can take on other hues depending on what other elements it binds with. For example, mixed with iron oxides it becomes pink.

It has a layered structure of silica and alumina giving it a soft and crumbly texture.

It is also the most common clay found in Australia, with deposits found in all mainland states.

Exposed white kaolinte in the pit wall at the Mt Gibson Wombat Gold Project in the Yilgarn Craton of Western Australia.

Uncovering Australian minerals

Australia is an ancient continent.

The land surface has been weathered over millennia, creating a thick blanket of broken-down rocks, sands and clays on the surface, called regolith. The term comes from Greek words, rhegos meaning blanket and lithos meaning rock.

The regolith makes it difficult to see what mineral ore bodies lie beneath the surface. It also means that a lot of rock and soils on the surface have travelled long distances from where they were originally formed.

That’s why mineral explorers need new ways to find clues to hidden treasure.

The clay detective

Our WA-based Research Scientist, Dr Ryan Noble, is an expert in mineral exploration techniques.

Dr Ryan Noble, the clay detective.

He believes the amazing adsorbing powers of kaolinite might hold clues for companies on the hunt for valuable deposits.

"As rocks weather over time many turn into kaolinite. This is why kaolinite is so widespread across Australia," Ryan says.

But it is a special property of the clay that makes it great for mineral discovery.

"I look at ultrafine particles of kaolinite. These are less than two microns in size. Even though these are very tiny particles they have a relatively large surface to adsorb metals from the environment," Ryan says.

"The clay particles trap and grab metals like gold, nickel and platinum.

“We can then analyse these ultrafine particles in a lab for metals of interest."

Ryan and his team helped develop the UltraFine+® method.

This method has successfully improved the detection of gold and other metals in areas with transported cover.

It produces more reliable and more sensitive results than traditional soil sampling methods.

The big advantage of the technique is being able to explore more precisely and so reduce the environmental footprint of drilling.

"Overlaying UtraFine+ results over a surveyed region reveals areas which have naturally higher accumulation of metals. This minimises the search area for minerals making it less invasive on the environment," Ryan says. 

The UltraFine+® method was developed by CSIRO in collaboration with LabWest and more than 35 industry sponsors as part of the MRIWA M462 and M462a Projects (2016-2023)

Contact us

Find out how we can help you and your business. Get in touch using the form below and our experts will get in contact soon!

CSIRO will handle your personal information in accordance with the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth) and our Privacy Policy.

First name must be filled in

Surname must be filled in

I am representing *

Please choose an option

Please provide a subject for the enquriy

0 / 100

We'll need to know what you want to contact us about so we can give you an answer

0 / 1900

You shouldn't be able to see this field. Please try again and leave the field blank.