November 2012: Press Release: Underground Data Shuttle Will Cut Mineral Exploration Costs

Posted on November 28, 2012 by DET CRC

A pioneering mineral exploration technology, which delivers real time information on rock formations while drilling a hole, is the latest world first for the South Australian-based Deep Exploration Technologies Cooperative Research Centre (DET CRC).

Known as the “autonomous shuttle”, the small sensor and data logger is pumped to the bottom of a drillhole where it protrudes beyond the diamond drill bit.  The shuttle then measures the properties of the rocks surrounding the hole as the drill rods and bit are gradually retrieved.

The autonomous shuttle – designed, built and tested by researchers at Curtin University and Globaltech (a Perth-based company supplying and developing tools and technologies for efficient exploration drilling) – successfully recorded natural gamma radiation in a test hole, indicating that it could differentiate between rock types.

“This means we can cost effectively retrieve real-time data on the rock formations deep inside the earth,” DET CRC Chief Executive Professor Richard Hillis said.

“The natural gamma sensor used in the successful trial is the first of several sensors that will be deployed on the autonomous shuttle.

“With a suite of sensors, the shuttle could replace much drill core, saving time and analytical costs and permitting drilling techniques that are only half the cost of conventional diamond drilling, at a time when Australian mining is feeling the pinch of high costs and declining commodity prices.”

Professor Hillis said the technology was successfully tested at the DET CRC’s Brukunga Drilling Research and Training Facility, in the Adelaide Hills, where new technologies can be tested against a fully cored and logged reference hole. The facility opened last November and has already been the site of several successful field trials of new technologies.

Gordon Stewart of Globaltech, one of the key researchers on the project, said the conventional process of analysing core from drill holes was time-consuming and expensive.

“Mineral exploration holes are drilled to obtain information about the rocks at depth in the subsurface.  Current methods require analysis of core or rock cuttings from the hole or they require the time and expense of mobilising a separate wireline crew to run sensors in the hole.

“Since it can be deployed by the drilling crew to obtain real-time information from a hole without the risk of the hole collapsing before it is analysed, the autonomous shuttle is a major international advance and offers significant cost savings.”

Professor Hillis said the shuttle’s full sensing capability would dramatically increase productivity by avoiding delays of weeks or sometimes months, when core is sent to laboratories for analysis.

“It will also enable cheaper existing drilling methods to replace diamond drilling and open the door for next generation drilling technologies such as downhole motors and coiled tubing drilling.”

Professor Hillis said the breakthrough was just one of several techniques being developed by DET CRC to obtain real-time information from drill holes and reduce the need to obtain drill core.

“The autonomous shuttle is one of many high tech products in DET CRC’s commercialisation pipeline and the manufacture of these products represents an opportunity for technologies developed for the mineral exploration sector to drive Australian manufacturing activity.

“It also reflects the value of collaboration between university and industry-based researchers driven and funded by the common goal of improving the productivity of mineral exploration.”

An animation demonstrating this technology can be viewed here.


Further information:

Olivia Fuller
08 8363 6811
0400 116 668