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Mapping tool finds "needle in haystack" ore bodies

02 November, 2011

The Duke of Edinburgh visited The University of Western Australia recently to inspect the progress on the development of advanced aerial mining exploration technology with the potential to discover minerals in new locations.

VK1 is a highly sensitive gravity mapping tool, or airborne gravity gradiometer, which has been developed as a joint venture between Rio Tinto's Exploration and Technology & Innovation teams and UWA and which is now in commercial trials with Rio Tinto.

The state-of-the-art VK1 airborne gravity gradiometer is said to be the most advanced mining exploration technology developed by Rio Tinto and aims to find "needle in a haystack" ore bodies.

When flown at altitudes of just 80 metres above the ground, VK1 measures tiny changes (or gradients) in the Earth's gravity field, indicating the potential presence of otherwise invisible mineral ore bodies beneath the surface.

The original vision for the device came from UWA's Dr Frank van Kann in 1979. It took its first flight onboard a light aircraft on 21 August 2010.

Targeted to operate at an accuracy and sensitivity that outperforms existing technologies, VK1 has been designed to help discover otherwise invisible, buried orebodies and expand Rio Tinto's knowledge of existing mineral resources. VK1 will also provide a much needed mineral data set.

UWA Vice-Chancellor Professor Alan Robson said the university was delighted to be showcasing some of its leading research to His Royal Highness.

"The University is honoured to be hosting His Royal Highness on his visit to Western Australia and to have the chance to demonstrate our particular expertise in developing advances in technology that are leading the world," Professor Robson said.

Dr van Kann described the 30-year development and production of VK1 as having been a long, fascinating and challenging project.

"The development and production of VK1 has been a long, fascinating and challenging project. The collaboration between UWA and Rio Tinto has made significant progress and I am looking forward to the next steps in the development of the device. It is exciting to see how far my original concept has been progressed," Dr van Kann said.

Rio Tinto expects the technology will undergo further modifications before a detailed testing program starts next year.

Rio Tinto chief executive Tom Albanese said it was an honour for all involved that His Royal Highness had visited the VK1 project at UWA.

"As orebodies become harder to find, we hope that pioneering new technologies like VK1 will help us uncover the next generation of mineral resources. I would like to congratulate Frank and his team for bringing this technology to the point where we will soon be able to test its commercial application," Albanese said.

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