Heavy mineral survey data collated to facilitate discovery of critical minerals
In a groundbreaking development for the resources industry, and the pursuit of a net zero future, geologists can now use these heavy mineral samples as indicators to ascertain the likelihood of critical mineral deposits upstream.
In partnership with Geoscience Australia and Curtin University, the Australian Government's Exploring for the Future program, has produced a pioneering tool known as the Heavy Mineral Map of Australia. This world-first initiative seeks to facilitate the discovery of minerals critical to achieving the goal of net-zero emissions.
The Heavy Mineral Map of Australia is the result of an extensive project that involved the analysis of heavy mineral samples extracted from floodplain sediments spanning the breadth of the country. Heavy minerals are essential for mineral and energy exploration, playing a pivotal role in the quest for vital resources.
Geologists can use these heavy mineral samples from floodplain sediments as indicators to ascertain the likelihood of mineral deposits upstream. For example, the presence of the mineral scheelite in a sediment sample can suggest that the catchment upstream may harbor tungsten, a crucial element used in the production of electrodes for batteries, an indispensable component in the drive towards cleaner energy.
“Nowhere else in the world have we seen datasets that show the distribution of heavy minerals at a continental scale that are freely available to the public,” Minister for Resources and Minister for Northern Australia, Madeleine King said.
“This map sets us apart and, crucially, will help us forge ahead on the road to net zero.”
This ambitious project involved collecting pre-existing samples from the National Geochemical Survey of Australia archive, sourced from various regions across the country. Over a two-year period, more than 145 million mineral grains were meticulously analyzed from 1,315 samples, unveiling 163 different mineral species, ranging from actinolite to zoisite.
To manage and facilitate exploration of this vast dataset, Geoscience Australia designed a custom cloud-based mineral network analysis tool. This cutting-edge tool empowers researchers to swiftly visualize, explore, and identify relationships between heavy minerals. It also aids in uncovering connections between these minerals and geological settings or existing mineral deposits.
What sets this study apart from others worldwide is its comprehensive approach. Unlike regions that amalgamate data from various smaller surveys over time, this initiative prioritized consistency by ensuring that the national set of samples was prepared and analyzed in the same way. This approach is set to revolutionize the utilization of heavy minerals in the search for critical minerals and foster new possibilities for commercial exploration.
In addition to its significance for the resources industry, the Heavy Mineral Map of Australia is a key component in supporting Australia's transition to a net-zero emissions future. As Minister King emphasizes, the path to discovering new minerals lies in innovative and precompetitive geoscience initiatives such as this groundbreaking mapping project. This endeavor underscores Australia's commitment to responsible resource exploration and its essential role in contributing to global sustainability goals.