Press release of March 11, 2020
Sustainable exploration from the air
HZDR researchers evaluate the efficiency of environmentally friendly raw material exploration
The firms SkyTEM and CGG Multi-Physics are currently testing new methods for environmentally friendly raw material exploration in the southern reference area of the EU project INFACT (Innovative, Non-Invasive and Fully Acceptable Exploration Technologies) in the Spanish region of Andalusia. Using a helicopter and an electromagnetic probe, they fly over the area, covering approximately four hundred square kilometers. Utilizing the data collected, the INFACT researchers can subsequently check whether the sensors they used function as expected by comparing the results with the existing geological information. The INFACT project is coordinated by the Helmholtz Institute Freiberg for Resource Technology (HIF), an institute at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR).
“Our aim is to revitalize exploration for raw mineral materials in Europe,” explains Dr. Richard Gloaguen, department head at the HIF and INFACT project leader. “On the one hand, we need to develop novel technologies with which we can tap into ore deposits in an environmentally friendlier and more sustainable manner. On the other, it’s about increasing public awareness and societal acceptance for modern exploration.” From the Freiberg researcher’s perspective, the project with SkyTEM and CGG Multi-Physics – two leading firms in the field of airborne, non-invasive geophysical data acquisition – fits perfectly with these plans.
“In our reference area, both firms can test new systems under conditions that are close to reality before they deploy them on previously unexplored terrain,” says Gloaguen. “Because we are most familiar with the geological data here, we can precisely assess whether the measurements are correct. That is, to determine whether the sensors are actually providing accurate results.” The geophysicist explains that the region is exceptionally interesting from a socioeconomic angle as well: “Two active copper mines are located there – Rio Tinto and Cobre Las Cruces – which are operated by the INFACT project partners Atalaya Mining and First Quantum. There is a long tradition of mining in the region. We can therefore simultaneously study how the novel methods are accepted in the social sphere.”
Telltale signals from underground
The helicopter embarks for approximately four weeks up into the Andalusian sky with an attached probe measuring approximately forty meters in diameter. This is how SkyTEM and CGG Multi-Physics test the performance of new sensor prototypes, which are meant to improve the penetration depth into the subsurface and the resolution of the acquired data, in a known geological environment. The basic principle rests on electromagnetic signals that the probe emits and receives. This provides the experts with information about the underground electrical conductivity, which is an indication of possible ore bodies and thus raw material deposits. “Compared to the conventional exploration, which relies heavily on drilling, this completely harmless method reduces the environmental and noise pollution significantly,“ ensures Gloaguen.
By advancing such methods and processes, the INFACT project partners want to revive Europe in the long term as a location for active raw material exploration and contribute to the secure supply of important industrial high-tech metals. Through an intensive dialogue with the civil society, they furthermore want to build trust in the raw materials industry. On this foundation, the seventeen partners wish to develop and then disseminate a common understanding of best practices in exploration. The EU has been funding the project since November 2017 with 5.6 million Euros from the framework program Horizon 2020. This will continue to run until October of this year.
Reference regions in northern, southern and central Europe
In addition to southern Spain, INFACT has established two additional regions as suitable reference areas. For example, in Sakatti, in northernmost Finland, which is located approximately 150 kilometers above the Arctic Circle, lies a deposit for the copper-nickel-platinum element group. The area has largely been explored but not yet mined. Geyer is located in the middle of the central European region. The small city in the Ore Mountains has a long mining history. It is known to contain tin, zinc, tungsten, molybdenum, copper, iron, silver and indium. The experts selected these areas based on the various social, physical and technical challenges that can play a role in the exploration of raw materials.
Dr. Richard Gloaguen
Helmholtz Institute Freiberg for Resource Technology at HZDR
Phone: +49 351 260-4424