Editor’s note: The aim of the Geology and Mining series is to introduce early career professionals and students to various aspects of mineral exploration, development, and mining in order to share the experiences and insight of each author on the myriad of topics involved with the mineral industry and the ways in which geoscientists contribute to each.
Economic geology and geometallurgy are intimately linked. Geologists understand the value in knowing the details of ore variability, the formation of mineral deposits, the continuity and the spatial distribution of ore types, and the mineral and textural characteristics that control grades. Beyond exploration and discovery, however, explorers may not recognize that the geologic knowledge developed around a mineral prospect is also essential to miners and metallurgists, reclamation and environmental specialists, and economists and investors who are interested in developing the discovery. Geometallurgy is the interdisciplinary method that links geologic, mineralogical, and geochemical characteristics of mineral deposits to the mining, processing, and metallurgical activities that are involved in the development of mines. Geometallurgy is not a new field, but recent developments in analytical capabilities and the ability to conduct statistical analysis and predictive modeling of large data sets have resulted in geometallurgy becoming a widely used method for optimizing mining operations. While there are many approaches, depending upon the nature of the ore deposit and the mine operating conditions and goals, the most important step explorers can take is to establish partnerships with the other areas of specialization in the project (mining, metallurgy, environmental, economics) and work together to understand the critical factors in order to best develop the deposit. Representative sampling to determine geologic variability and uncertainty and understanding the controls of throughput and recovery in the mining operation are fundamental to optimizing projects. For exploration and prefeasibility timelines, information on ore characteristics and spatial variability can provide a preliminary assessment of how material in a potential ore deposit can be processed.