Dec '10/Jan '11

Future mineral resource discoveries

New knowledge needed for discovery

By Alexandra Lopez-Pacheco

James FranklinHaving worked for more than 40 years as an exploration geologist, James Franklin remains passionate about ensuring the strength and success of Canada’s mining industry. In fact, although Franklin technically retired in 1998 from his position as chief geoscientist of the Geological Survey of Canada (GSC), where he was responsible for coordinating GSC’s entire scientific program, he has been working full time — and often overtime — ever since. Today, he is a director or science advisor at three exploration companies, and sits on numerous boards for professional and scientific groups. His contribution and dedication to mineral resources research and innovation dates back to the beginning of his career, when he was a professor at Lakehead University and a consultant for Noranda until 1975, when he joined the Geological Survey of Canada (GSC). From 1983 until 1993, he coordinated the GSC’s marine minerals program, an integrated research program that culminated in the discovery of a major deposit at Middle Valley on Canada’s Juan de Fuca Ridge, and two legs of ODP drilling there. Currently, as part of this season’s CIM Distinguished Lecturer Series, Franklin is speaking on the need for a new, collaborative, structured and focused approach to research and knowledge sharing for future mineral resource discoveries.

CIM: Why is investing in exploration research and development so important today and going forward?

Franklin: What we have to do overall in our industry is become much more efficient at finding deposits than in the past. The success rate per dollar spent is incredibly poor in our business and it’s getting harder to find deposits. Yet, this is important to Canada — the world leader in exploration.

CIM: What areas of R&D do you think need to be prioritized?

Franklin: We need research in three primary areas. One is a better understanding of the geological models that explain the presence of ore deposits and we need to be able to translate aspects of those models back out into our observational geology. We have lots of people out there mapping. They’re among the best in the world. But are these people equipped with knowledge of the key attributes that explain the presence of ore deposits, those little subtle things that might have affected the rock? Have we got this nailed? No, we don’t. That’s the first part.

The second part is we need to develop the tools. We need to think outside of the conventional box of existing technologies. And the third thrust has to do with data. We generate huge amounts of data now. How do we manipulate through that vast amount of information to generate new knowledge that will lead to discovery? We need to improve the way in which we interpret these data, and spend less time on simply archiving and plotting it.

CIM: Is there not a lot of research being done and published?

Franklin: The research being done on mineral deposits doesn’t attack the key problems related to discovery as intensively as it could, to explain with greater precision where ore resources can be found. That’s not a criticism of the people doing it, there are just not enough people doing it.

CIM: What changes need to take place to improve R&D?

Franklin: The Canadian mining industry always knew that improvement wasn’t going to happen unless it takes a stronger leading role in both directing the research and, to some extent, funding it. The wake-up call has come in part because the Australians figured this out way ahead of us. Australia has reorganized its geosciences research, so that it is much better focused than it is in Canada.

The Canada Mining Innovation Council, of which I’m a member, is working towards making Canada a leader in research and innovation. We are going to provide a framework of research needs and organize funding to ensure that we obtain the results that will hopefully answer our questions. In other words, we’re not asking researchers to provide the proposals. We’re going to create a set of comprehensive proposals and ask them to bid on or become involved in that research. We’re also going to manage the output of that research in a more firm way, so that the results are delivered to the consumer, i.e. the industry, in a way that makes it more practical to use.

No one is arguing about this. The research providers — the universities and government agencies that conduct research, and some private sector groups — are all saying this is great because we’ll finally see a greater involvement by industry. And, for its part, industry is saying that it will finally get done what it thinks needs to be done.

CIM: Where are things now with this initiative?

Franklin: I’ve been doing this for a long time. This is the third or fourth effort I’ve been involved in trying to marshal industry, government and universities into one virtual room and say “Look, let’s get it together and see if we can do better.” All the other attempts have failed, because we didn’t create the infrastructure to do this. So, we have to set up an enterprise that is self sufficient, that will meet government and university standards in terms of the quality of work, but the management is going to have to be standalone and that’s going to take money. That’s the cusp of where we’re at right now.

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