Advancing old mining techniques to create super-fast drilling

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Image credit: flickr user: tarboat

Researchers from Curtin University are working on developing new cost-effective ways to drill mineral exploration boreholes which would allow miners to abandon the current method of drilling in hard rock environments that has often proved to be economically prohibitive.

Image credit: flickr user: tarboat
Image credit: flickr user: tarboat

Professor Brian Evans, Department of Petroleum Engineering, who leads the project at Curtin University, believes their research will yield results that would enable mineral explorers to drill boreholes at a fraction of the cost and time of industry standards.

He says that by modifying existing techniques, they will be able to drill boreholes at a cost of $50/m, with only two staff instead of six, while cutting the time it takes to receive analysis of the ground minerals.

“Coiled tube drilling rigs have been used in the oil and gas industry for the last 40 years to clean up existing boreholes and they are quick because they are continuously drilling – they don’t need rod changes. We are adapting these coiled tube drilling rigs to be used for hard-rock mineral drilling by replacing the steel drill pipe with flexible coiled tubing, and working on embedding sensors and electronic chips in the composite laminate tube, so logging can be done in real time,” Professor Evans says.

“We’ve also decreased the borehole size, because by drilling continuously with small, low-cost impregnated diamond bits and increasing the speed, we are hoping to increase the rate of penetration substantially.”

The project is a collaboration between CSIRO, the University of Adelaide and various mining and service companies through Deep Exploration Technologies Cooperative Research Centre (DETCRC). The focus of the research is to increase the drilling speed for mineral exploration from 50 rev/min to 7000 rev/min, while reducing costs and improving health and safety.

The first trial with the prototype drilling rig was publicly demonstrated in Brukunga quarry in Adelaide last week. Further testing is planned before the drill can be made commercially viable for industry use.