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BHP chief technical officer Laura Tyler. Image: BHP.

BHP chief technical officer Laura Tyler believes the mining sector is moving into a “golden age” of discovery thanks to technology’s ability to reveal systems under cover.

Tyler, speaking at the 2021 Prospectors and Developers Association Conference (PDAC) in Toronto, Canada, said companies could not use old exploration methods to find their next “golden” discovery.

Drawing experience from its metals exploration in the Oak Dam iron oxide-copper-gold operation in South Australia, Tyler said companies could harness technology to make the earth at 400 metres depth as transparent as the surface of the earth.

At Oak Dam, BHP unearthed a mineral system under 800 metres of cover, with intercepts including 58 metres at 2.49 per cent copper and 1.2 grams per tonne of gold over wide areas in just four years.

“For more than two centuries, we have hunted for deposits. But these are the smallest expression – and therefore the hardest to find – of the mineral systems in which they manifest,” Tyler said.

“Taking a more holistic view of the systems themselves will allow us to create new insights.”

BHP has partnered with Ideon Technologies at its nickel mines in Western Australia to use cosmic ray muon detectors, or underground sensors, that enable the imaging of sulphide orebodies above them.

The company has also collaborated with Sensore to assist in its nickel discovery in the Yilgarn, Western Australia.

In a push to enter a golden age of exploration, Tyler revealed BHP’s plans to establish its mineral exploration hub in Toronto.

In August 2020, BHP struck an agreement with Midland Exploration to fund nickel exploration in northern Quebec, Canada, for a minimum of two years.

According to Midland, the alliance is aiming to find significant nickel deposits within a large area of interest.

“Nickel is fast becoming the ‘work horse’ of battery technology, playing an essential role in the world’s efforts to decarbonise,” Tyler said.

“Nickel production will have to increase nearly four-fold to power the next generation of battery technology and the forecast demand for electric and hybrid vehicles.”

BHP is also advancing the Jansen potash project in Canada, where it holds exploration permits and mining leases over around 9600 square kilometres.

Tyler flagged that there would also be a double in demand for copper production in the next three decades as the world continues to develop renewable technologies and charging infrastructure.