The global demand for copper and gold continues to grow. Copper is widely used in building materials, plumbing, and electronics. Gold is still highly valued for jewelry and coinage, but nearly a third of the world’s gold is now used in electronics.
Both of these metals are getting increasingly difficult to find as many of the known sources have been exhausted. Companies spend millions of dollars drilling deeper and deeper in search of new deposits.
It costs about $400 to drill one meter into rock and it is not uncommon to drill to depths of one to two kilometers. So, it can cost nearly a million dollars to drill a hole that has no guarantee of success. Given that ore deposits are tiny compared with the totality of the search space, prospecting for these metals is very much like looking for a needle in a haystack.
A researcher at the University of South Australia has developed a suite of geochemical tools to more accurately target valuable mineral deposits and thereby save drilling companies millions of dollars. The goal is to have drilling for valuable minerals be faster, cheaper and more environmentally friendly.
By mapping out where key chemical elements are found in greater concentrations, the new suite of tools greatly increases the chances of finding an ore deposit at a target site and thereby greatly improve the return on investment for exploration companies. The tools have been successfully tested at an iron oxide-copper-gold deposit in the north of South Australia, leading to a four-fold increase in the known footprint of their ore body. Finding economically viable enriched ore sites can generate both revenues and jobs.
Prospecting for gold just got a lot easier (and cheaper)
Photo, posted April 21, 2005, courtesy of Adam via Flickr.
Earth Wise is a production of WAMC Northeast Public Radio.
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