Gold bullion bars sit following casting at a refinery in Germiston, South Africa. (Photographer: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg)

X-Ray Technology May Speed Up Miner's Search for Hidden Gold

(Bloomberg) -- A breakthrough x-ray technology that can detect and analyze unseen gold is now up and running in Australia, the world’s second-biggest producer, with plans to take it to Africa.

The new technology, developed by Australia’s national science agency, uses high powered X-rays to bombard rock samples and activate atoms of gold and other metals. A highly sensitive detector picks up unique signatures to determine their concentrations.

The system is operational at Ausdrill Ltd.’s MinAnalytical facility in Perth, with two more to be established in the Kalgoorlie goldfields in coming months, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, or CSIRO, said in a statement on Thursday. Ausdrill has longer-term plans to take it to Africa.

The introduction of the technology couldn’t be better timed. The producer-funded World Gold Council has estimated that world supply may have peaked, while Frank Holmes, chief executive officer of U.S. Global Investors Inc., said last month that mine supply topped out in 2017 or will do so this year.

“We’ve seen the introduction of autonomous machinery in mines, the adoption of ore-sorting technology in mineral processing, and now x-ray technology to help further up the chain,” said Gavin Wendt, senior analyst at MineLife Pty. “Meaningful gold discoveries are much harder to identify, so a process that could dramatically enhance the exploration process will be welcomed.”

The photon assay system will analyze at least 50,000 samples a month, at a similar cost to conventional methods, and can also be applied to a range of other minerals, including silver and copper, the CSIRO statement showed. It’s a faster, safer and more environmentally-friendly alternative, it said.

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