Aussie ‘downward-facing telescope’ could transform mineral exploration
A new so-called ‘downward-facing telescope’ – capable of looking more than 300km beneath the Earth’s surface – could focus mineral exploration in the large swathes of Australia that are currently too costly to explore.
The proposal is one of several in a ten-year plan launched by the Australian Geoscience Academy’s National Committee for Earth Sciences.
The plan highlights the urgent need for Australian exploration to innovate in the face of a global shift towards renewable energy and electric vehicles – which will demand huge amounts of copper, cobalt, lithium, gold, rare-earth elements, and other specialty metals.
Committee chair Professor Sue O’Reilly said a piece of infrastructure like a ‘downward-looking telescope’ would transform the mining sector by making “deep Australia visible”.
“It would give us a new understanding of the vertical makeup of the continent and allow us to direct our mineral exploration efforts in the two-thirds of Australia that aren’t currently cost-effective to explore,” she said.
By 2030, global demand for cobalt will be 47 times what it was in 2016, Professor O’Reilly said.
Australia will also need more copper in the next 15 years than it has ever used in its history.
“Relative to how much of it we use, copper is geologically one of the scarcest industrial commodities — in the next few years we will be looking at an annual copper deficit almost equal to our current global copper production,” she said.
Unless Australia becomes self-sufficient in these strategic metals, the country may be held to ransom with big price increases and chronic shortages, Professor O’Reilly said.
“This exemplifies the need to generate new geoscience knowledge that will allow us to explore successfully in the covered areas of Australia.”