How AI and Big Data Will Unlock the Next Wave of Mineral Discoveries
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How AI and Big Data Will Unlock the Next Wave of Mineral Discoveries

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How AI and Big Data Will Unlock the Next Wave of Mineral Discoveries

How AI and Big Data Will Unlock the Next Mineral Discovery

Emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are rapidly proving their value across many industries.

Today’s infographic comes from GoldSpot Discoveries, and it shows that when this tech is applied to massive geological data sets, that there is growing potential to unlock the next wave of mineral discoveries.

Mineral Exploration: Fortunes Go to the Few

Discovering new sources of minerals, such as copper, gold, or even cobalt, can be notoriously difficult but also very rewarding. According to Goldspot, the chance of finding a new deposit is around 0.5%, with odds improving to 5% if exploration takes place near a known resource.

On the whole, mineral exploration has not been a winning prospect if you compare the total dollar spend and the actual value of the resulting discoveries.

Measuring Discovery Performance by Region (2005 to 2014)

Region Exploration SpendEstimated Value of DiscoveriesValue/Spend ratio
Australia$13 billion$13 billion0.97
Canada$25 billion$19 billion0.77
USA$10 billion$5 billion0.48
Latin America$33 billion$19 billion0.57
Pacific/SE Asia$8 billion$4 billion0.49
Africa$20 billion$23 billion1.19
Western Europe$4 billion$2 billion0.42
Rest of World$27 billion$8 billion0.32
Total$140 billion$93 billion0.57

Figures in 2014 dollars. (Source: MinEx Consulting, March 2015)

Aside from the geographic insights, on the surface this data reveals that mineral exploration does not pay for itself. That said, there are still significant discoveries worth billions of dollars – it’s just the returns go inordinately to a few small players that make big finds.

Much of the money spent on exploration may not have produced the next great discovery, but you can be sure it created massive volumes of data that could be used for further refining of exploration models.

So, What is the Problem?

Every exploration failure or success produces geological insights. The mineral exploration process is the source of massive amounts of data in the form of soil samples, chip samples, geochemistry, drill results, and assay results. Each drill hole is a tiny snapshot into the processes that form the earth.

A single drill hole can create 200 megabytes of data and when there are many drill holes coupled with other types of information, an exploration project can produce terabytes of data. If you wanted to compare your one project to hundreds of others to find the best insights, the amount of data becomes dizzying.

All these data points are clues that can be used to find new mineral deposits, but to sort through them is too much for even an entire team of capable geologists.

Luckily, using today’s technology, this data can now be used to train computers to spot the areas showing similar patterns to past discoveries.

AI-Assistance

The true power of AI will be in its ability to empower technically trained professionals to make decisions in an increasingly complex and data-driven world.

Professor Ajay Agrawal, a noted academic in AI and founder of the University of Toronto’s Creative Destruction Lab, categorizes human activities into five categories:

  1. Data collection
  2. Information retrieval
  3. Prediction
  4. Judgment
  5. Action

He concludes that machines should do the first three and that humans – such as geologists, doctors, lawyers, investment bankers and others – should make the judgment calls and take the actions based on predictive capabilities of AI.

The mineral exploration industry presents a good example of how AI and big data can help technical professionals make discoveries faster, with less money, using a wide variety of data inputs created.

Opportunity Generator and the AI-friendly Future

AI can take the large amounts of data from many different projects in order to spot the right opportunities to further explore, building on decades of geological data from projects around the world.

The right technology can help reduce the risk inherent in exploration and lead to more mineral discoveries on budget, rewarding those that deployed their data most effectively. Companies that are able to harness this power will tip the scales in their favor.

As a result, mineral exploration is no longer so much an art of interpretation – but instead, it becomes closer to a pure science, giving geologists a whole-field perspective of all the data.

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Energy

The Periodic Table of Endangered Elements

90 different elements form the building blocks for everything on Earth. Some are being used up, and soon could be endangered.

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The Periodic Table of Endangered Elements

The building blocks for everything on Earth are made from 90 different naturally occurring elements.

This visualization made by the European Chemical Society (EuChemS), shows a periodic table of these 90 different elements, highlighting which ones are in abundance and which ones are in serious threat as of 2021.

On the graphic, the area of each element relates to its number of atoms on a logarithmic scale. The color-coding shows whether there’s enough of each element, or whether the element is becoming scarce, based on current consumption levels.

ElementFull NameStatus
AcActiniumPlentiful supply
AgSilverSerious threat
AIAluminumPlentiful supply
ArArgonPlentiful supply
AsArsenicSerious threat
AtAstatinePlentiful supply
AuGoldLimited availability
BBoronLimited availability
BaBariumPlentiful supply
BeBerylliumPlentiful supply
BiBismuthLimited availability
BrBrominePlentiful supply
CCarbonPlentiful supply / serious threat
CaCalciumPlentiful supply
CdCadmiumRising threat
CeCeriumPlentiful supply
CIChlorinePlentiful supply
CoCobaltRising threat
CrChromiumRising threat
CsCesiumPlentiful supply
CuCopperRising threat
DyDysprosiumRising threat
ErErbiumPlentiful supply
EuEuropiumPlentiful supply
FFlourinePlentiful supply
FeIronPlentiful supply
FrFranciumPlentiful supply
GaGalliumSerious threat
GdGadoliniumPlentiful supply
GeGermaniumSerious threat
HHydrogenPlentiful supply
HeHeliumSerious threat
HfHafniumSerious threat
HgMercuryLimited availability
HoHolmiumPlentiful supply
IIodinePlentiful supply
InIndiumSerious threat
IrIridiumRising threat
KPotassiumPlentiful supply
KrKryptonPlentiful supply
LaLanthanumPlentiful supply
LiLithiumLimited availability
LuLutetiumPlentiful supply
MgMagnesiumLimited availability
MnManganeseLimited availability
MoMolybdenumLimited availability
NNitrogenPlentiful supply
NaSodiumPlentiful supply
NbNiobiumLimited availability
NdNeodymiumLimited availability
NeNeonPlentify supply
NiNickelLimited availability
OOxygenPlentiful supply
OsOsmiumRising threat
PPhosphorusLimited availability
PaProtactiniumPlentiful supply
PbLeadLimited availability
PdPalladiumRising threat
PoPoloniumPlentiful supply
PrPraseodymiumPlentiful supply
PtPlatinumRising threat
RaRadiumPlentiful supply
RbRubidiumPlentiful supply
ReRheniumPlentiful supply
RhRhodiumRising threat
RnRadonPlentify supply
RuRutheniumRising threat
SbAntimonyLimited availability
ScScandiumLimited availability
SeSeleniumLimited availability
SiSiliconPlentiful supply
SSulfurPlentiful supply
SmSamariumPlentiful supply
SnTinLimited availability
SrStrontiumSerious threat
TaTantalumSerious threat
TbTerbiumPlentiful supply
TeTelluriumSerious threat
TiTitaniumPlentiful supply
TIThaliumLimited availability
TmThuliumPlentiful supply
VVanadiumLimited availability
WTungstenLimited availability
XeXenonPlentiful supply
YYttriumSerious threat
YbYtterbiumPlentiful supply
ZnZincSerious threat
ZrZirconiumLimited availability
ThThoriumPlentiful supply
UUraniumRising threat

While these elements don’t technically run out and instead transform (except for helium, which rises and escapes from Earth’s atmosphere), some are being used up exceptionally fast, to the point where they may soon become extremely scarce.

One element worth pointing out on the graphic is carbon, which is three different colors: green, red, and dark gray.

  • Green, because carbon is in abundance (to a fault) in the form of carbon dioxide
  • Red, because it will soon cause a number of cataphoric problems if consumption habits don’t change
  • Gray because carbon-based fuels often come from conflict countries

For more elements-related content, check out our channel dedicated to raw materials and the megatrends that drive them, VC Elements.

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Mining

Mapped: The 10 Largest Gold Mines in the World, by Production

Gold mining companies produced over 3,500 tonnes of gold in 2021. Where in the world are the largest gold mines?

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The 10 Largest Gold Mines in the World, by Production

This was originally posted on Elements. Sign up to the free mailing list to get beautiful visualizations on natural resource megatrends in your email every week.

Gold mining is a global business, with hundreds of mining companies digging for the precious metal in dozens of countries.

But where exactly are the largest gold mines in the world?

The above infographic uses data compiled from S&P Global Market Intelligence and company reports to map the top 10 gold-producing mines in 2021.

Editor’s Note: The article uses publicly available global production data from the World Gold Council to calculate the production share of each mine. The percentages slightly differ from those calculated by S&P.

The Top Gold Mines in 2021

The 10 largest gold mines are located across nine different countries in North America, Oceania, Africa, and Asia.

Together, they accounted for around 13 million ounces or 12% of global gold production in 2021.

RankMineLocationProduction (ounces)% of global production
#1Nevada Gold Mines🇺🇸 U.S. 3,311,0002.9%
#2Muruntau🇺🇿 Uzbekistan 2,990,0202.6%
#3Grasberg🇮🇩 Indonesia 1,370,0001.2%
#4Olimpiada🇷🇺 Russia 1,184,0681.0%
#5Pueblo Viejo🇩🇴 Dominican Republic 814,0000.7%
#6Kibali🇨🇩 Democratic Republic of the Congo 812,0000.7%
#7Cadia🇦🇺 Australia 764,8950.7%
#8Lihir🇵🇬 Papua New Guinea 737,0820.6%
#9Canadian Malartic🇨🇦 Canada 714,7840.6%
#10Boddington🇦🇺 Australia 696,0000.6%
N/ATotalN/A13,393,84911.7%

Share of global gold production is based on 3,561 tonnes (114.5 million troy ounces) of 2021 production as per the World Gold Council.

In 2019, the world’s two largest gold miners—Barrick Gold and Newmont Corporation—announced a historic joint venture combining their operations in Nevada. The resulting joint corporation, Nevada Gold Mines, is now the world’s largest gold mining complex with six mines churning out over 3.3 million ounces annually.

Uzbekistan’s state-owned Muruntau mine, one of the world’s deepest open-pit operations, produced just under 3 million ounces, making it the second-largest gold mine. Muruntau represents over 80% of Uzbekistan’s overall gold production.

Only two other mines—Grasberg and Olimpiada—produced more than 1 million ounces of gold in 2021. Grasberg is not only the third-largest gold mine but also one of the largest copper mines in the world. Olimpiada, owned by Russian gold mining giant Polyus, holds around 26 million ounces of gold reserves.

Polyus was also recently crowned the biggest miner in terms of gold reserves globally, holding over 104 million ounces of proven and probable gold between all deposits.

How Profitable is Gold Mining?

The price of gold is up by around 50% since 2016, and it’s hovering near the all-time high of $2,000/oz.

That’s good news for gold miners, who achieved record-high profit margins in 2020. For every ounce of gold produced in 2020, gold miners pocketed $828 on average, significantly higher than the previous high of $666/oz set in 2011.

With inflation rates hitting decade-highs in several countries, gold mining could be a sector to watch, especially given gold’s status as a traditional inflation hedge.

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