News: Industry, SA, Using our Microscopes

Industry Access by BHP Billiton to the University of Adelaide

BHP is a household name in global resources. It directly employs approximately 4500 people in South Australia where it operates the Olympic Dam mine.

This is one of the world’s largest ore deposits where copper, uranium, gold and silver are mined and processed in a fully integrated and unique processing facility. For cost-effective exploration BHP needs to understand how the Olympic Dam ore body formed. They also need to monitor efficiency of mineral recovery from Olympic Dam ore and determine how to optimise processing to extract the most gold, copper and uranium from the ore.

Microscopy is essential for this, enabling them to examine and understand the structure of minerals at the nanoscale across the entire deposit. To maximise efficiency, they must also understand how each mineral responds in the complex processing facility. Trouble-shooting any performance issues with the metallurgical plant requires immediate microanalytical analyses of minerals. Although BHP do not own and operate micro-analytical facilities they use the Microscopy Australia facilities at the University of Adelaide and have done since 1992.

Through Microscopy Australia, BHP Billiton obtains regular access to the electron microprobe and scanning electron microscopes at the University of Adelaide. Their personnel analyse the ore and tailings samples from the mine. As a results of their microscopy BHP Billiton saved considerable sums of money (many millions of dollars) in the first year alone. These savings will accumulate to be very significant over the life of the process change.

Director Angus Netting using the Microprobe at the University of Adelaide