Orexplore makes mining more sustainable
With a digital technology leap, Swedish tech company Orexplore offers new possibilities for Swedish mining to become more environmentally, economically and socially sustainable.
As early as in the 1990’s, geoengineer Anders Ullberg questioned the traditional method used by the mining industry to map minerals and elements in rock. Ullberg believed the process to be ineffective and have too much of an ecological footprint. In addition, only a small portion of each drill sample was analysed. During the 2000’s, Ullberg and his business partner, radiology professor Ragnar Kullenberg, devoted themselves to developing X-ray technology that would make mapping faster, contain more information and be more environmentally sustainable. But it wasn’t until 2010 that Ullberg and Kullenberg patented their technology. The same year, Kevin Rebenius was brought in, and Orexplore was founded.
The drill samples would be X-rayed on site at the mine and, unlike with the traditional process, the entire drill sample would be examined. New software would then allow geologists, for the first time ever, to see straight through the sample and analyse it”, Rebenius explains.
Great energy benefits
Orexplore's process would revolutionise the value chain. With access to more information, the mine could avoid unnecessary drilling and expensive boreholes. Fewer boreholes would, in turn, lead to a reduction in energy consumption, as less rock would be blasted, crushed and transported. And with access to information within minutes, planning could be carried out in less time. There was money to be saved while reducing the impact on the environment. However, in the beginning of the 2010’s, computers did not yet have the capacity to detect gold in a drill sample. Instead, the company adopted plan b, and started developing a simpler machine for mapping minerals and elements, requiring less of the computers.
On the threshold of a revolution
Today, almost ten years later, Orexplore has caught up with its vision and is once again on the threshold of a revolution. At the head office in Kista in Stockholm, a GeoCore X10 production line has been built. The X-ray machine can be set up at the mine and in just a few minutes X-ray a one-metre drill sample. The company has also developed its own software, Orexplore Insight, which creates tomographic 3D images. Using the Virtual Core Farm programme, the mine can store digital drill samples and more quickly conclude where deposits are located. The time has also come to conduct the first tests with an updated GeoCore X10, built to find gold.
“Now, the time is right. You have to remember that the mining industry has mapped minerals using the same principles for hundreds of years. Sustainability is higher on the agenda now, and we have a crying need for what is called rare earth metals. Metals that are required for electric car batteries, for example. Technology that can find more metals in a faster and more sustainable way is more important than ever”, says Mikael Bergqvist, R&D Manager at Orexplore.
Sweden has the metals
Today, China accounts for about 90 percent of the production of the 17 metals classified by the EU as strategic metals. But the rare earth metals are not only found in China. Sweden has all of them, and one of the richest ore deposits is located in Gränna in southern Sweden. A deposit that is believed to contain 20 percent of the world market's need for yttrium, often used by the laser industry. But for the time being, planning has been stopped.
“The traditional methods stand in the way for mining in Gränna. Opening a mine there affects the environment too much. But if the process was to be carried out in a different way – more efficient mapping, more surgical-like methods and less impact on the environment – I think there is a greater chance that the metals would be allowed to be excavated”, Bergqvist continues.
“At Orexplore, we believe that from an economic, environmental and social perspective, it is better to extract minerals in a controlled manner in our own country. Today, we don’t know if cobalt for electric cars is mined by child labourers in the Congo”, Rebenius adds.
A more attractive industry
The term "mineral shame" does not yet exist. But the fact is that the mining industry has to act on sustainability. Orexplore makes it possible for mines to take a big step towards a more sustainable planet. Yes, sustainability is about leaving fewer ecological footprints. But it’s also about better financial conditions for mines, and enabling faster and better decisions. This could mean quicker returns on investments or not delaying the closure of a mine, if plans are not viable.