Going for gold

15 December 2016

Australian company Chrysos will commercialise CSIRO's new gold analysis technology PhotonAssay, through which mining companies will be able to rapidly detect small traces of gold.

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Worldwide expenditure on gold analysis is estimated at around $1 billion per year.

In 2015, Australia produced around 300 tonnes of gold worth approximately $15 billion. It accounted for almost 10% of the the world's production - second only to China.

But the Australian metal is mined at very low concentrations, and the industry is further challenged by declining ore grades.

Typically, an Australian gold plant extracts only between 65-85% of the metal present in the mined rock.

Even a small boost in efficiency could therefore be worth billions of dollars.

This provides significant opportunities for new technologies, such as PhotonAssay, that can provide real-time analysis services in on-site applications with the potential to deliver substantial productivity gains for gold miners.

The basic principles (see box) of the technology have been known for decades but as they are complex they have found only limited commercial use to date. In developing PhotonAssay, CSIRO's researchers focussed on improved accuracy, sensitivity and simplicity of the technology to make it attractive for low-grade operations, such as often found in Australia.

CSIRO's PhotonAssay technology uses high powered X-rays to bombard rock samples and activate atoms of gold and other metals.

A highly sensitive detector then picks up unique atomic signatures to determine the concentrations of these different elements.

Chrysos is now set to deliver the first PhotonAssay unit in late 2017, and will then roll out smaller systems for mine-site operations the following year.

Chrysos was formed in a partnership between industry, government, investors and the research sector, and will be headquartered in Adelaide.

The company's name - Chrysos is the greek word for gold - reflects an initial focus on gold mining. However, Chrysos could later expand into other commodities such as silver and copper, as the PhotonAssay technology can be applied to a wide range of metals.

More information: http://minister.industry.gov.au