FEATURE-From kangaroos to SQUID, new technologies transform hunt for minerals

Thu Dec 5, 2013 10:33am EST
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* New technologies target deposits "hidden" by soil, rock, ice

* Change could mirror transformation seen in oil and gas

* Cheaper, more efficient drilling needed to unlock deep deposits

By Clara Ferreira-Marques

LONDON, Dec 5 (Reuters) - From intelligent drills to analysing gum tree leaves, an unprecedented push to develop new methods and technologies promises to transform the way miners explore for deposits, allowing them to dig deeper, faster and more cheaply.

The results could ultimately unlock so-called 'covered' deposits: riches hidden under hundreds of metres of soil, rock or sea water, sometimes in or near previously explored areas.

That could reverse the steady shift away from mining regions such as Australia and Canada to untested, frontier areas, in the search for the next blockbuster find.

Many flagship mines are ageing, producing less and less metal for every tonne of ore pulled out of the ground. This has driven up costs and prompted companies to explore in new parts of Africa or Asia, despite the additional political risks.

"Deposits are becoming increasingly hard to find, and both the technology that we have available to us and the approaches, are less useful when exploring deeper deposits," said Dean Collett, a geoscience consultant working with Australia's UNCOVER initiative, which promotes exploration of covered areas.   Continued...