Written by Liam Hardy with photography by Megan Chandler
PANIC! This piece does feature a bit of geo-jargon, but worry not, in the coming months, we’ll be writing and filming a ‘mining 101’ guide here at MiningIR.com to get us through the academic terminology together and hopefully make these events and publications more accessible to every level of geo-enthusiast, including articles on resource definition and common deposit types from Porphyry to SEDEX. Stay tuned!
The most effective weapon in the investor’s arsenal is knowledge. Understanding the products, services, people and regions open to investments can make targeting funds far more enjoyable and hopefully more profitable! Nowhere is this more prevalent than in the mining industry, but the common leisurely flow of information often puts investors on the back foot, with the last bite at the apple in terms of data availability and access.
Companies are always keen to show us their key positive data regarding total resources and abundant positive projection graphs, but sometimes not always as enthusiastic to explain how they came about those numbers and the background work that contributed to their publications.
Enter the Mineral Deposit Studies Group Winter Meeting (MDSG). Every January some 150-200 geologists from all corners of the industry take off their muddy boots and leather hats to present their field work, compare notes and share the odd beer or three at the MDSG. The MDSG is an informal bridge between mining’s academic, industrial and investment sectors in the United Kingdom and Ireland. The event offers a rare public glimpse into the PhD projects, data analysis programs, geological surveys and exploration initiatives, funded by junior and major mining companies to better understand the science behind their resources and guide their future exploration.
Here we’ll try to offer a basic review of the key speakers and discussions from MDSG18 with links to further reading and references.
This year the MDSG was hosted at the University of Brighton, a welcoming and popular spot in the famous British seaside resort. Sponsors included Rio Tinto, Addison Mining services, SRK Consulting, Zeiss Microscopy, Olympus Industrial Solutions and the Mineralogical Society who not only came together to help fund the event, but also to judge prizes for student presentations, give industry insider talks and run stalls for recruitment and presentation of ongoing work.
The conference launched with (lots of coffee and) an SEG supported ‘Exploration Masterclass’ where 45 members from across the country joined 3 experienced academic and industrial speakers for an intense course on gold chemistry (Norman Moles, University of Brighton), gold mapping (Warren Pratt, SGM Ltd.) and gold economics (Dante Aranda, Thomson Reuters).
The key take home from the course was the importance of having skilled geologists on the ground and in the labs to accurately map and interpret the masses of data available before pumping money and time into drilling. Several examples were given where drilling had followed drone, satellite and geophysics data without any field contact and come up dry, but only missed by a few hundred metres, which could have been quickly resolved by a decent geo in the field.
Following the masterclass Richard Herrington (Natural History Museum, London), Kathryn Goodenough (British Geological Survey) and Sarah Gordon (Geol Soc of London) hosted a panel discussion about 2018’s resource challenges. The group discussed the need for our academic researchers to better communicate their work and apply it to industry, as well as the risks and opportunities associated with projected critical metal demands.
The whole room engaged in interesting discussions about how academia and industry can stay on top of these demands to guide our enormous electrical car and technological booms without significant socio/environmental damage to the developing countries providing the lithium, rare earth elements (REEs), copper and iron for these huge projects. Several fingers were subtly pointed towards global political issues, (perhaps from Trump to Brexit), which undoubtedly combine to make this our most challenging year yet for predicting the resource economy.
During the open session, the ‘magical windmill’ concept was raised by a local undergrad student; The popular idea that if we install wind turbines, we assume we’ve completely solved the environmental negatives with our electricity supply, but often fail to recognise the resources used to drill, transport and construct these new turbines.
In some cases this make turbines carbon negative rather than offsetting. The panel agreed this was a problem at the junction between science, design and end-user. At this junction, we often fail to communicate our geoscience effectively, and overall the public are happier to believe in magic windmills than hear the truth… and governments more than happy to keep feeding this popular sugar coated ideal.
A crispy 8:30 start the following morning focussed on some world class new exploration projects with reviews from Tim Livesey on the Nevsun Resources Cukaru Peki copper-gold project in Serbia, and a series of talks on using satellite imaging and hyperspectral reflectance to quickly define exploration targets in Canada & the UK.
Jeremy Wrathall, Director of Cornish Lithium Ltd. then delivered a keynote address on the company’s new 300km2 licence in the UK and the state of the industry currently driving demand. Their predictions included a 3000% increase in lithium demand if the world switches to 100% electrical vehicles (this is obviously unlikely!) and no cease in demand from now until 2040 (regardless of market value), when some 54% of vehicles are predicted to be electric.
Cornish Lithium are exploring 1 of only 5 lithium enriched granites in the world, inspired by an 1894 newspaper clipping which described the lithium rich brines upwelling from local springs. They have begun drilling across the region to target exploration for brine resources.
Also on the wild topic of lithium, Beth Simons (Camborne School of Mines, England) presented results from a new QEMSCAN technique for quickly identifying lithium minerals and roughly grading ore. The project used samples from igneous provinces in Cínovec (Czech republic), Gonçalo (Portugal) and Kaustinen (Finland), where historically XRD analysis has been used. XRD is often less effective and/or slow for Lithium bearing minerals so, this new development will be welcome across the budding lithium industry.
Adrian Finch & Anouk Borst from the University of St Andrews (Scotland) & Andrew Dobrzanski from the University of Edinburgh (Scotland) continued the morning sessions with discussion about magmatic REE deposits. Adrian focussed on the magmatic processes leading to eudialyte enrichment in the Gardar Province (Greenland), Anouk on the structural properties of eudialyte crystals and Andrew on the petrogenesis of REE minerals at Norra Kärr in Sweden. Eudialyte is a common mineral in alkaline intrusive systems that can host significant amounts of Zircon, Niobium and middle-heavy REE which all currently have significant economic value.
If suitable metallurgy and mineral processing research (like this) can unlock eudialyte’s content, then Europe, the USA and Canada will very quickly gain access to some exceptional high-grade deposits, notably at Norra Kärr and Kringlerne (Greenland). It is widely agreed by geoscientists that processing eudialyte is the most important hurdle for the REE geoscience community to overcome if we’re going to break our Western reliance on Chinese REE production. We will be following these projects closely in the future as their result will likely have a direct feedback to the price, mineability and investment value of scores of REE projects worldwide.
The extraction of critical metals as by-products from copper, iron and gold resources was very popular throughout the sessions as many smaller mine projects try to find viable ways to get off the ground, or extend dwindling mine life. Sally Worbey and Dave Holwell from the University of Leicester (England) presented work from the Ernest Henry IOCG deposit in Australia where elevated levels of selenium and tellurium have been found associated with copper sulphides. These metals, along with other trace critical elements, could potentially be extracted from the mine tailings to add value to the mine. Similar projects have been presented in previous years, including some promising work on recovering REEs from alluminium mine waste lakes in Greece & Turkey (E, Deady) and are worth catching up on HERE.
On a similar theme of improving mine efficiency, Rumana Khan & Gawen Jenkin (also from the University of Leicester) brought examples of their ongoing work related to deep eutectic solvents. These are simple, low environmentally impacting materials which can target gold and related sulphides from a crushed stream of mine material, often at the mine site without the need for complex energy intensive beneficiation. These solvents were proposed as replacements for mercury at the Segovia deposit (Columbia) and have been trialled at Scotgold’s Cononish deposit (Scotland) to extract electrum from lode deposits.
For some science/geeky videos on DES use in tar sands, and metalliferous mining click HERE!
The evening was ended with a fabulous banquet at The Grand Hotel in Brighton and one or two beverages in Brighton’s North Laine district, famous for its vinyl bars, North African basements and friendly, bohemian atmosphere.
A well-attended session first thing the following morning (again, with litres of coffee!) lead by Stefano Salvi from GEToulouse (France) focused on everybody’s favourite resource, gold! Stefano began by praising regional research partnerships such as the WAXI Amira, which is allowing better access and geological work in West African nations before discussing his new ideas for the formation of so called invisible and visible gold deposits.
Stefano’s work has used pyrite trace chemistry and fluid inclusion studies to define two common and distinct periods of mineralisation in many gold deposits related to the transition between ductile and brittle deformation in buried rock formations. The work concluded in a neat model relating the growth of gold and arsenic-rich pyrite to earthquake-driven pressure drops.
Sam Rice followed by reporting 3 years of work completed at UWS (Scotland) looking at the overriding controls on gold mineralisation in the Southern-Uplands & Longford Terrain (of Scotland, Northern Ireland & Ireland).
The region includes deposits with up to 52g/t in assay, most of which are still little understood. His work concluded that gold mineralisation was related to post-subduction magmatism during soft continental collision and sub-continental lithospheric mantle delamination following closure of the Iapetus ocean around 420ma. Sam concluded that gold mineralisation and its driving magmatism occurred at a shallow crustal level and were associated with very low grade (sub-greenschist facies) metamorphism and potassic hydrothermal alteration led to deposit geology comparable to porphyry and orogenic deposit types, but the research continues! If you want to know more about the region’s gold, click HERE.
Alongside Louisa Stokes & Chris Fozard, your current author presented a gold exploration report from the Hummingbird Resources Tienhpo licence in Liberia. The work defined 3 distinct phases of sulphide mineralisation in complex Birimian mylonite and migmatite terrain surrounding the very rural village of Sadiaken.
Our final tip of the hat from the conference is to an ongoing project by Hamidullah Waizy on the Aynak deposit which contains some 240 million tons at a grade of 2.3 % copper, some 30km SSE of Kabul (Afghanistan). The project concluded that the Aynak copper deposits in Afghanistan were most likely sedimentary-diagenetic in their origin, similar to the Zambian Copperbelt ores, as opposed to metamorphic-hydrothermal, resolving, a debate that has been ongoing since soviet drilling in the 1970s first brought the deposit to light. Hamidullah’s data from Re-Os dating, sulphur isotope studies and petrographic analysis are likely to bring the debates to a reliable close.
We wish we’d had time to see more, it was a packed and intense schedule! Overall the conference was an exceptional opportunity to engage with a range of geoscientists on a broad range of topics.
If you’d like to find out more about the MDSG visit www.MDSG.org.uk, or follow them on Twitter @MDSG_UK. The next meeting will be held in the idyllic surroundings of Camborne School of Mines in Cornwall, England and we can’t wait to hear how these projects have progressed.
If you have any economic geology queries or something you think is worth discussing in the world of mining research, you can say hello to your author at any time via Twitter: @BeefcakeHardy or using the email address at the top of this article. Next week we’ll be reporting from the Vancouver Resource Investment Conference, The Association for Mineral Exploration Round-up and Metal Investors Forum in Vancouver, say hello and join the team for a beverage, we’d love to get to know you all better.