It is common to see resources explorers tell investors about the results of metallurgical testwork it has undertaken. This commonly occurs after drilling campaigns and amidst completion of scoping or feasibility studies. But just what is involved in this process and why is it so important?
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What is metallurgical testwork?
Metallurgical testwork is an essential step during mineral exploration and resource definition. This process involves a series of laboratory tests that assess the properties, characteristics, and quality of ore deposits. It is typically done by an independent geology firm at a lab that is industry accredited. The results provide crucial information for understanding geological processes and determining optimal mining parameters.
Testwork will typically include some combination of comminution (particle size reduction), mineralogical analysis, flotation, leaching, and gravity separation. Through this process, mining companies can make informed decisions about designing cost-effective extraction operations that maximize the recovery of valuable minerals from ore deposits.
Once testwork is complete, mining companies can use this information to develop a tailored strategy for drilling at the prospect site. This includes selecting drill targets based on analysis of material composition, geochemical data, and mineralization trends. It also involves determining optimal drilling depths and techniques that are best suited to recovering the desired minerals.
Toward the end of the process (or at the end) companies will tell you some of the results. The key to look for is recovery rates – how much of the resource can be recovered from drilling as well as the grade. The grade may be different from drilling results because they do not take account of whether or not the resource can be recovered. Dependant on the specific mineral and environment in question, other metrics might be examined too. One example is the proportion of rock samples that are Acid Consuming or Non-Acid Forming.
Mining activities can cause environmental damage and one specific type of damage is acidification – where acidic water outflows from mines. Metallurgical testwork will determine the risk of this and potentially how it can be managed. Some companies may have a project that has previously had testwork conducted and it can use the work as a foundation for its own work, potentially completing it faster than would otherwise be the case.
What is the point of it?
By conducting detailed metallurgical testwork prior to drilling for mineral resources, it is possible to estimate the following:
- The success of the project (whether or not it is worth going ahead)
- Costs of the project
- The best ways to minimise potential risks.
The results form a big part of scoping and feasibility studies which will play a big part in the project’s key metrics (NPV, IRR and JORC resource) and, therefore, the Final Investment Decision. While drilling gives a hint of how much of a resource there might be, metallurgical testwork determines whether or not it is safe and profitable to extract the minerals and thereby create value for shareholders.
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