David McHutchon, MINEX Forum, 12 March 2019
On 5 March 2019, MINEX Forum caught up with Alireza Malehmir, Project Coordinator for the Smart Exploration project, which is seeking to develop ‘cost-effective, environmentally-friendly tools and methods for geophysical exploration’. Alireza Malehmir is a Professor of Applied Geophysics at Uppsala University, Sweden, and is currently conducting research on mineral exploration seismics as well as instrumentation for high-resolution seismic imaging.
Malehmir stated that among the techniques being trialled to provide more cost-effective exploration are the use of existing tunnels, boreholes and reassessing the value of legacy data. He explained, “we collect much more data today, but they are not necessarily better data. Sometimes we have much more background noise. For example, things have developed and now you have mines, crushers and infrastructure around you that generate noise themselves which you didn’t have for example twenty or thirty years ago. Even though these data are of course less in terms of quantity, they are often less contaminated by noise. With it, however, we are often missing background information: the locations were not so accurately recorded.” Malehmir concluded that the team were often amazed at how much could be extracted from the legacy data that could not be gathered in a modern context.
Three of the project’s six exploration sites are in Southeast Europe: the Gerolekas bauxite site in Greece; Hellas Gold exploration sites, also in Greece; and, ground gravity and magnetic surveys on PROXIS exploration concessions in southern Kosovo.
The benefit of a collaborative approach, according to Malehmir is that the partners are able to combine the technical expertise of the major mining companies with the process analysis and focus on quality from the academic participants. It also has a vital role in talent development with the masters and doctoral students appended to the project able to gain experience working on real-life cases.
One of the most exciting technical innovations to come out of the project is the improvement of underground seismic surveys through utilizing mining and exploration tunnels, better adjustment for background noise and more accurate time-series analysis by inventing a GPS-time system for deep mines. Among the key project deliverables are electromagnetic and seismic equipment, including airborne, UAV, surface-based, in-mine and downhole systems, and advanced subsurface imaging and modelling of the subsurface in crystalline rock environments.
Within the Smart Exploration Project, Intellectual Properties (IP) are owned by the persons or companies who generate them. In case of joint invention, the IP is shared between those producing it, based on common business standards.
The project aims to develop new exploration tools and methods worth commercializing and to identify new exploration targets. As a result of the additional exploration targets being identified, it is hoped that the project will bring additional development and employment to the economies of the region. Moreover, ‘improved exploration’ should enable mining companies to better plan their mining operations and reduce to a minimum the environmental impact of mining activities, while extending the life of active mine sites.
Smart Exploration has been granted just over €5.2 million in European Union Horizon 2020 funds and is nearly at the midpoint in its a planned 2018-20 runtime.