Australian scientists have developed what is believed to be the world's first automatic system for mapping the minerals in drill cores, with potential to save the mining industry millions of dollars.

The new rapid core logging system developed by Commonwealth Scientific & Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in collaboration with the mining industry through AMIRA International, applies satellite-based mineral-mapping know-how to significantly increase the geological knowledge gained from drill cores, chips and powders.

Dr. Jon Huntington's team at CSIRO has demonstrated automatic and continuous mapping of the minerals in drill cores at a rate of 1,650-2,000 feet per day and a resolution of 1/2 inch or less, with further scope for improvement.

The technology also can extract new knowledge from the millions of miles of core stored in core yards around the world.

"The most exciting thing is the geological information revealed," says Huntington. "Detailed knowledge of the mineralogy can contribute to grade control, assessment of mine stability, optimization of ore processing and improved understanding of ore forming processes."

The new system has successfully been tested at the Sunrise Gold Mine in Western Australia and will be utilized at sites in South Australia in the near future

"We've brought our airborne and satellite-based mineral mapping expertise into the core shed," says Huntington. "It's a classic example of CSIRO quickly adapting its strategic skills to tactical industry problems."

He envisions complete 3-D models of ore system mineralogy being easily assembled from all drill holes, mine-faces and benches and incorporated into existing 3-D mine visualization and modeling systems.

While current work is focusing on mine-scale applications, it is easy to see the value of the technology for improving returns from exploration drilling. Operationally, this information could be available within just a few hours of completing a drill hole.

At the heart of the system is a sophisticated visible to short-wave infrared reflectance spectrometer that rapidly measures molecular level absorption characteristics of a suite of important alteration and rock-forming minerals.

The system, which can sample drill cores, chips or blast hole powders in their original trays at a rate of 2 1/2 in./sec., includes automated tray handling, spectrometer, illumination, safety and high-resolution color imaging subsystems.