Why Is It Important To Test Rock And Mineral Properties When Determining Mining Methods?

Many modern materials, from smartphones to automobiles, are made from natural resources. As technology advances, more green infrastructure – such as electric vehicles and wind turbines – is produced. Minerals such as nickel, manganese, copper, uranium, and rare earth elements are required to support this evolution.

Rock And Mineral Properties

As mining demand grows, we must find new sources of essential minerals and metals more efficiently by testing rock and mineral properties. The early stages of mining involve searching an area by hand on the ground surface or drilling to collect samples underground where rock properties can be evaluated. One can even start testing rock properties as soon as they hold a rock in their hand. 

For instance, you could check the toughness of the minerals in the rock by scratching it with a steel knife – if it does not scratch, it is softer than quartz which has a 7 rating on the Mohs hardness scale. This is regarded as one of the most useful methods for determining minerals in the field. 

Friedrich Mohs, a German mineralogist, devised the scale which states that any mineral with a higher number will scratch any mineral with a lower number. An acidity test can also be performed by pouring vinegar on the rock and watching it fizz. 

The presence of metals in rocks is of particular interest to miners. To see if there are any metal minerals, one could hold a magnet near the rock and feel for a magnetic pull. 

Most minerals can also be distinguished and classified by their distinct physical properties which include hardness, color, fracture, streak (propensity to leave a streak after rubbing on paper), luster (the way light interacts with the surface), and tenacity (how well a mineral resists breakage).

Mineral Exploration Relies Heavily On Core Samples

Many more tests are performed by geologists to ascertain rock and mineral properties. The most sophisticated of these are performed in laboratories. Rock samples from ground cores are collected and sent for extensive testing to these laboratories.

Core sampling is critical for discovering underground resources. Many layers of rocks dating back millions of years can be tested to help scientists understand what happened and where minerals may have formed. The geological horizon can be tracked down in the surrounding landscape by identifying a prosperous layer so that miners can determine where they have to undertake more extensive mining operations.

Following drilling, the semi-cylindrical column of subsurface rock is removed and examined in the laboratory. The sample can be examined via a wide range of equipment including light microscopy, scanning electron microscopy, X-ray powder diffraction (XRD), and X-ray fluorescence (XRF) equipment to reveal the mineralogical and chemical make-up of rocks.

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Small indications of copper or nickel found using these techniques could provide the confidence needed to proceed with mining a location in a specific way. Every detail in a core sample’s rock properties assists in pinpointing precisely where companies should mine thereby lowering the risk of investing large sums of money in what could turn out to be a dry prospect.

Core sampling is a technique that has been used for decades in both mining and subsea hydrocarbon exploration. Core samples are now being collected on Mars and transported back to Earth for analysis.

Mining Industry Core Sample Testing

Many businesses offer basic sample testing services. Intertek offers a wide range of services, such as precious metal analysis, mineral sample preparation, core cutting, particle size assessment, and valuable metals analysis using fire assay or cyanide leach techniques. Geoscientists can also use Squa Regia Digestion to find gold and multi-elements or XRF to find trace elements.

Nickel Demand Is Expected To Rise

Nickel, a “hidden mineral” found in everything from cutlery to computers, is one of the key mineral resources expected to play a significant role in the future. Eagle Mine in the United States supplies 1.5% of the world’s nickel, but demand is expected to rise with the rise of the green transition for use in electric car batteries, wind turbines, and other applications.

Glencore is one of the four largest mining companies in the United Kingdom, with operations in Canada, Europe, Australia, New Caledonia, and the South Pacific. The company manufactures some of the highest quality nickel available on the market.

In a press release, Trevor Blair, Senior Supervisor, Strategic Planning & Business Development at Raglan Mine, stated, “The future of nickel is bright.” I see it as a catalyst for change, not only for the development of emerging economies, assets, and infrastructure but also for the ability to connect the world.”

As mining operations continue and develop in response to increasing global demand for certain minerals and metals, careful geological analysis of rock properties in the field and in the laboratory will be more essential than ever in order to enhance mining operations, cut costs, and increase success chances.

Although nickel price volatility has been relatively low recently, nickel and stainless steel markets continue to be influenced by the global economy. Furthermore, the traditional summer lull in trading activity, unpredictable transportation networks aggravated by extreme weather, and increased power costs have complicated the picture for nickel and stainless steel market participants.

Cash nickel prices on the London Metal Exchange fell in August from around $24,000 per ton at the start of the month to less than $21,000 per ton recently. Nickel stocks in LME warehouses fell below 55,000 tons. The prevailing outlook for the remainder of 2022 is extreme caution as primary nickel supply is ramping up and stainless steel demand is expected to cool.

According to the International Nickel Study Group’s most recent estimates, the global refined nickel market had a supply surplus of 10,400 tons in the first half of 2022 compared to a supply deficit of 97,600 tons in the first half of 2021. According to INSG, global primary nickel output increased 13.9 percent year on year from January-June 2022 outpacing the 1.3 percent increase in nickel usage during the same period.

According to Macquarie Research, total global nickel production will increase even more in the first half of 2022. The disparity between the production of Class 1 nickel (traded on the LME) and the output of NPI, ferronickel, and intermediate nickel products that are frequently used to produce stainless steel has been a recurring theme in global nickel supply.

According to Macquarie, “Third-party nickel intermediates (matte/MHP/MSP) production from Indonesia and elsewhere has increased significantly this year (production was estimated at 122kt in 1H22, up 258% YoY or 88kt).” Total growth for the year could be 200kt.

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