NRC helps Canada's mining industry seize golden market opportunities
Laser technology boosts the productivity and profitability of gold mining leader
December 02, 2013— Timmins, Ontario
In Timmins, Ontario, gold mining isn't simply an industry. It's an economic driver for the region. As one of the world's top gold mining companies, Goldcorp is an economic anchor for the city. It is also the fastest-growing, lowest-cost senior gold producer in the world, with operations and development projects across Canada and throughout the Americas.
Goldcorp expects to grow gold production by another 70 percent within the next five years. Committed to responsible and sustainable mining, the firm is consistently seeking new technologies that bolster its productivity and profitability. In an industry where the costs of everything from energy to labor to engineering have risen faster than the price of goldFootnote 1, it is essential to optimize every facet of the mining process to remain globally competitive.
This includes the earliest steps in gold exploration and discovery, including the evaluation of the concentration of gold and other indicator elements within ore samples extracted from the mine. The results of this analysis guide planning, operational and investment decisions on larger-scale gold extraction, development and processing. Goldcorp geologists typically extract a cylinder-shaped core from rock using a drill, and assess the geological potential through qualitative visual inspection as well as analysis of crushed material. A key challenge: it is a labor-intensive and costly process that often requires the samples to be sent to a lab for processing. Moreover, if the gold is not detected during these in-situ evaluations, it can prompt lost opportunity in the millions of dollars.
In 2010, Goldcorp discovered a novel technology developed by the National Research Council Canada (NRC) that accelerates the gold assessment process. "The Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) Analyzer focuses a laser beam on a target (such as rock) and converts a tiny amount of this material into a hot ionized gas called plasma," said Dr. Mohamad Subsadi, NRC scientist and lead inventor. "The light emitted from this gas enables us to identify, map and measure gold content in the sample. This technique delivers accurate results quickly and demands little sample preparation. Geologists simply place a sample into the analyzer (which is similar in structure to a microwave), and the machine reports on the concentration of 17 different elements in the ore – in real time."
According to Stephen Price, Goldcorp Technical Services Manager, the innovation has streamlined the core assessment process: "The analysis of ore content can take anywhere from 24 hours to five weeks," said Mr. Price. "We have used the LIBS Analyzer for more than two years at our Porcupine Mine in Timmins. It provides our geological team with an evaluation of 17 elements within five minutes – right in-house. This allows us to identify which samples should be analyzed more thoroughly. It also helps to ensure that we don't pass over a sample because the mineralization is not discernible to the naked eye."
Mr. Price elaborates on how this information is helping Goldcorp to build a stronger business. "The information provided by the LIBS Analyzer helps us to determine where to focus exploration activity and subsequent development. This contributes to the development of a stronger project pipeline, ultimately increasing Goldcorp's growth potential."
Going forward, Goldcorp is considering adapting the analyzer for other phases of the mining process in partnership with NRC. Mr. Price sees tremendous potential to leverage this technology to continually improve the efficiency of gold exploration, development, extraction and processing.
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