Acoustic Zoom applies novel imaging technology
Disrupt Mining win opens doors for Newfoundland company
A company specializing in high-frequency seismic imaging of geological formations is taking its groundbreaking technology a step deeper at Goldcorp Inc.’s Red Lake Mine.
Acoustic Zoom Inc., the Newfoundland firm that won the 2018 Disrupt Mining competition for innovative mining technologies, is using the walls of mine tunnels at the Red Lake gold mine to transmit acoustic signals, monitored by receivers in drill holes, to help gauge surrounding mineral potential.
“This is innovation on top of innovation,” said Dr. Jacques Guigné, Acoustic Zoom’s chief executive officer and chief scientist. Acoustic Zoom uses a unique transmitter that sweeps through frequencies to penetrate the earth, creating acoustic waves that bounce off geological formations that can’t be seen using conventional geophysics, he explained.
Sensors placed in existing diamond drill holes receive the acoustic signals, which are recorded, analyzed and combined with geological models to delineate potential mineralization with more certainty.
“We’re looking at a particular formation of interest to them, which is strategic and subtle and we plan to illuminate it with sound waves,” said Guigné. “If everything goes well, and we start to have a sense of where the structural formations are, we can then say to drill the following holes.” The collected information will help form a better understanding of the global geology of these mineral indicators, he added.
For Goldcorp, it’s another step in a high-tech innovation strategy that has implemented surface-operated, teleremote scoops, a semi-autonomous scoop which runs on automatic pilot between the draw-point and drop-point, and a surface-operated locomotive that hauls waste rock and ore. Since 2016, Goldcorp has also been working with IBM Watson to develop cognitive computing or artificial intelligence to guide exploration activities and improve prospects for mineral discoveries.
Goldcorp and Integra Gold founded Disrupt Mining in 2017 as a catalyst for mining innovation and a showcase for emerging technologies. Goldcorp invested $1 million to become a minority shareholder in Disrupt Mining’s 2018 winner Acoustic Zoom. As part of the deal, Goldcorp’s director of geophysics Sergio Espinosa is joining Acoustic Zoom’s board of directors.
About $150,000 will be spent on Acoustic Zoom’s current pilot project at the Red Lake mine.
Goldcorp’s endorsement and the worldwide exposure received from Disrupt Mining was the true prize of the competition, said Guigné. “This is something we could not have achieved from Newfoundland,” he said. A visiting physics professor at the University of Bath in the U.K., he has been based for more than 30 years in Newfoundland, where his pioneering work has advanced the offshore oil industry. He literally wrote the book on how to mitigate the risks of placing foundations for large oil, gas and harbour installations on the seabed.
Although his company worked hard to perfect its unique imaging system and made it cost-effective to add value to mineral exploration drilling, the profile it gained from Disrupt Mining was surprising, Guigné said. Large and small mining companies around the world have learned about Acoustic Zoom.
“We’ve had enquires from Australia, from Argentina, Peru and Mexico,” in addition to interest in Canada and the United States, he said. “It’s of great interest to these companies because they’re looking for this type of approach.” By early summer, Acoustic Zoom had signed contracts to work for two other international companies. In addition to work in Australia, Acoustic Zoom is examining opportunities in Peru, Argentina, Northern Saskatchewan, Ontario and Quebec.
The off-the-shelf receivers and transmitters used by Acoustic Zoom, are readily available in various countries. “How we use them is unique and novel,” Guigné said. “The way that we tune the transmission is unique to our method. The information we’re going after is not reflection, but actually the back-scatter, the diffused energy that comes from discontinuities in the geology, and that is very hard to do. That’s what we’ve pioneered for the last five years.”
Measurements inferring a mineral-bearing formation are used to develop geological models predicting the feasibility and profitability of mining an individual mineral deposit. Acoustic Zoom makes those measurements higher in confidence. “A lot of our work is really for the investor,” said Guigné. Investors putting up the money to examine and delineate a mineral prospect are taking a risk, he explained. Acoustic Zoom can reduce that risk and encourage more exploration investment, he predicts. “It changes the dynamics for investors. It changes the probability of what is there. It also helps to direct, dramatically, where to drill.”
“By using Acoustic Zoom, you lay out the zone of interest, you start to see where the formations or structural changes are and you direct your drilling toward those structural changes,” he said. “Its precision and location of all its data points is very high so, instead of having a drill sample that’s seven centimetres in diameter, and that’s one data point and you’ve got to drill again, in Acoustic Zoom you may have something like 20 to 40 thousand data points for that drill hole. That dramatically changes how you would perceive that particular resource.”
The technology not only reduces the cost of mineral exploration, but also increases its value. A promising mineral prospect that previously may have required 200 drill holes to delineate might now only need 50, Guigné said. “But those 50 holes will be perfectly directed.”
When working on projects abroad, he expects Acoustic Zoom will subcontract geophysics experts and rent equipment locally. But all the data processing will be done by Acoustic Zoom. “It is very complex,” Guigné said. “We’re very strong in physics and mathematics. We have all the software, commercial software, designed in-house to apply to these signals.” Acoustic Zoom will work very closely with clients’ geologists as part of their team to enhance the modelling of geological formations. “We do the interpretation with the client. It’s a partnership in each case. That has really resonated with the market.”