Geoscience Australia, in collaboration with Curtin University, has developed the Heavy Mineral Map of Australia, a new tool to support the discovery of critical minerals using heavy mineral samples found in floodplain sediments from across the country.
Heavy minerals are used around the world for mineral and energy exploration, including in the search for critical minerals.
The map has been released as part of the Federal Government’s Exploring for the Future program, and by analysing the collected heavy mineral samples, geologists can determine the likelihood of mineral deposits upstream.
For example, if the mineral scheelite is found in a sediment sample, the catchment upstream may contain tungsten. Tungsten is a critical element used in the production of electrodes, an essential ingredient in batteries.
Federal Minister for Resources and Northern Australia, Madeleine King, said that the development of the Heavy Mineral Map of Australia was a world-first in precompetitive geoscience, providing a continent-wide view of heavy mineral distribution.
“Nowhere else in the world have we seen datasets that show the distribution of heavy minerals at a continental scale that are freely available to the public,” Ms King said.
“This map sets us apart and, crucially, will help us forge ahead on the road to net zero.”
Geoscience Australia accessed existing samples from the National Geochemical Survey of Australia archive, collected from across Australia.
Over two years, more than 145 million mineral grains from 1,315 samples were analysed to create the maps, identifying 163 different mineral species, from actinolite to zoisite.
To facilitate exploration of such a vast dataset, a cloud-based mineral network analysis tool was developed at Geoscience Australia. This tool allows for the rapid visualisation, exploration and discovery of relationships between the heavy minerals, as well as links between them and geological settings or existing mineral deposits.
The result was the first ever heavy minerals study that prepared and analysed the national set of samples in the same way, unlike in other parts of the world that combine generations of smaller surveys.
“Heavy minerals have been underutilised in exploring for critical minerals. The Heavy Mineral Map of Australia will help change that,” Ms King said.
“To unearth new minerals, we must explore in new and innovative ways.
“The key to unlocking new commercial exploration is precompetitive geoscience, like the Heavy Mineral Map of Australia.”