GapGeo Viable exploration depths are really viable mining depths
It’s been 25 years in the making, but a labour of love from Gap Geophysics Australia CEO Dr Malcolm Cattach is defining the next frontier of mining exploration.
GapGeo Group specialises in the development of leading edge geophysical technologies and provision of services to the exploration and environmental industries globally.
The group is comprised of three companies: Gap Geophysics Australia, which specialises in mineral exploration; Gap Explosive Ordnance Detection (GapEOD), which specialises in instrumentation and services for the detection of terrestrial and marine unexploded ordnance internationally; and Gap GeoPak, the research and development arm and technical support base.
Historically, electrical geophysical surveys have only been able to survey to fairly shallow depths but now, thanks to an idea borne in 1993 as part of his PhD, GapGeo CEO and chief geophysicist Dr Malcolm Cattach’s unique and award-winning Sub-Audio Magnetics (SAM) and HeliSAM technology provides a cost-effective solution for deep penetration electromagnetic (EM) surveys, enabling the mineral exploration and environmental geophysics industry to be able to explore to much greater depths than we ever have before.
“Most geophysicists would agree they've got a bit of an innovation bent,” admits Dr Cattach. “We're always trying to improve the way that we do things. My PhD demonstrated that SAM could actually work, but at that stage, it was ahead of its time: it wasn't until the early 2000s that the electronics, processing capabilities and storage devices became available that makes it practical to do with electronics. “Then from about 2005 onwards, since we formed Gap Geophysics, it's been more of our commercialisation stage.”
25 years since its ideation, SAM is a patented technique that allows for the simultaneous high definition mapping of both the magnetic and electrical properties in the ground, without sacrificing quality or efficiency.
Conventional EM surveys require grounded electrodes, levelled sensors and stationary measurements limiting the terrain that can be covered in a day. As a result, spatial resolution is often sacrificed for survey area coverage rates – but the SAM technique bypasses such issues, providing particularly good value for money.
“It's always tricky to explain technical stuff in simple terms,” he laughs. “But the future of exploration is going to be exploring to much greater depths. Consequently, we will be much more dependent upon geophysics to provide high-quality drill targets at depth.
“We build very high-powered geophysical transmitters to actually get our signal down deep and to cover large areas. What we've been trying to achieve with SAM is to provide much better-quality geophysical information much more cost-effectively. SAM gives us the ability to acquire electrical property information of the earth at a very high spatial resolution, quickly.”
SAM can be employed for a wide variety of survey types, mainly mineral exploration, explosive ordnance detection and geotechnical mapping as it is well suited to overcome the difficulties of highly conductive surface layers, such as with salt lakes.
“Conventional electromagnetic surveys have only been looking down to about 200 or 300 metres,” he explains. “But generally, people believe that near-surface deposits have probably already been discovered because of their relative ease of detection.
“If you assume that people historically surveyed down to 300 metres, then that means that that depth range between 300 metres and 1000 metres is the next frontier of the mining exploration.”
HeliSAM is a hybrid technique which refers to helicopter-borne acquisition of SAM data. Coupled with Gap GeoPak’s high-powered, ground-based geophysical transmitter systems, HeliSAM can map large areas quickly and cost-effectively to depths not possible with conventional airborne survey techniques. The HeliSAM technology has already seen exceptional results internationally.
Moreover, the low frequency (LF) HeliSAM technology has shown outstanding results at the Forrestania Test range in Western Australia’s wheatbelt region, showcasing to the Australian market what can now be achieved.
“Helicopter-borne EM systems carry a transmitter loop under the helicopter” explains Dr Cattach. “The generate a transmitter signal from the helicopter and then have a receiver on the helicopter also, which measures the response”.
“However, there's a limit to the amount of power that a helicopter system can produce due to the weight and size of the loop and transmitter. That in turn, limits the depth penetration with a pure helicopter-borne system.
“LF HeliSAM allows us to gather very high-quality data over large areas very cost effectively, compared to trying to do it at ground level only. We are able to generate enormous power from the ground-based system and combine it with the speed of acquisition that you get from a helicopter, so we've got the best of both worlds… In addition, we are able to use very low transmitter frequencies. There’s no other technique quite like this. This is a world first in getting down to those transmit frequencies.”
Following a presentation Dr Cattach recently delivered on his Sub-Audio Magnetics (SAM) and HeliSAM technology at the Australasian Exploration Geoscience Conference in Sydney, both he and his co-authors were awarded the peer-voted Laric Hawkins Award for geophysical innovation in recognition of the continued development of technology, of which SAM and HeliSAM is being considered an industry ‘game changer’. It’s his sixth award, and Dr Cattach says it’s an honour to be recognised for the work he started a quarter of a century ago.
“My career's been involved with thinking of the concept back in the late 80s and early 90s, proving the feasibility of it and then putting the technique into practice.
“Since we privatised the business we've gone to this more commercial mode. But we've never stopped doing R&D. I've been very fortunate to have a group of very capable scientists and engineers around me, who've been able to continue to develop the various techniques.”
The Australian mining and exploration industry is recovering after a difficult few years, and Dr Cattach claims the industry needs to be in a good state to be able to continue to embrace new technologies.
“It doesn't matter how good technologies are if nobody's got any money to spend on them!” he laughs. “This technology has been coming into maturity over the last few years, when the industry's been in pretty poor shape, but it's only really now that you get this sort of confluence of the technology coming together in time when the industry's starting to get going again. Like everybody who works in the mining industry, we've had our struggles, but we certainly see the next few years as being very positive for us.”
Another obstacle is educating the industry while developing new technologies, because trialling new technology and equipment can be daunting and expensive.
“Some people are hesitant to try and take on something new and different that no-one's done before, because if it doesn't work, you're in trouble.
“Trying to battle that mentality has been a little bit awkward at times, but I’m grateful to a lot of our clients in the industry who've been prepared to think outside the box – it’s their willingness to try new things which has enabled us to continue development of SAM. They appreciate what we're trying to do and have supported us in trying to get through the door in revolutionising exploration, which is what our main goal is.”
GapGeo’s focus for the next few years is commercialisation and the business has been looking at finding other partners who are working in different parts of the world to start exporting the technology worldwide.
“With SAM and HeliSAM, I’m excited about commercialising something we've been working on for such a long period to the rest of the world,” he concludes. “They’re Australian home-grown technologies, and I’m proud of that.”
Why Alibaba Cloud is doubling down in Southeast Asia
Alibaba has announced expansion of its cloud business within Southeast Asia, with the introduction of a digital upskilling programme for locals alongside acceleration of its data centre openings.
This doubling down of its cloud business in Southeast Asia comes as the company faces stiff competition at home in China from rivals including Pinduoduo Inc and Tencent and seeks to up its game in a region considered to be the fastest-growing in cloud adoption to compete with leading global cloud providers AWS, Google and Microsoft.
Alibaba Cloud, the cloud computing arm of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba and second biggest revenue driver after its core e-commerce business, finally turned profitable for the first time in the December 2020 following 11 years of operation, thanks largely to the pandemic which has spurred businesses and consumers to get online.
Southeast Asia growing demand for cloud
In 2020, there was a noticeable increase in interest towards cloud in SE Asia, with the population embracing digital transformation during the pandemic and SMEs across the region showing increased demand for cloud computing.
Such demand has led to the expectation that Southeast Asia is now the fastest-growing adopter of cloud computing with the cloud market expected to reach US$40.32bn in Southeast Asia by 2025 according to IDC.
And there are plenty of players vying for a slice of the cloud pie. While AWS, the cloud arm of Amazon, is the leading player in Southeast Asia (and across all of APAC apart from China), Microsoft and Google are the next two most dominant players in Southeast Asia with Alibaba coming in fourth.
“There is no doubt that during the past year we have seen the acceleration of digital transformation efforts across all industries,” explains Ahmed Mazhari, President, Microsoft Asia. “Asia now accounts for 60% of the world’s growth and is leading the global recovery with the digitalization of business models and economies. Cloud will continue to be a core foundation empowering the realization of Asia’s ambitions, enabling co-innovation across industries, government and community, to drive inclusive societal progress.”
Alibaba’s commitment to Southeast Asia
At its annual Alibaba Cloud Summit, the Chinese company announced Project AsiaForward, an initiative designed to upskill local developers, small-to-medium-sized companies and connect businesses with venture capital. Alibaba said it would set aside US$1bn over the next three years to develop digital skills in the region, with the aim of helping to develop 100,000 developers and to help grow 100,000 tech startups.
But that’s not all. The company, which recently opened its third data centre in Indonesia, serving customers with offerings across database, security, network, machine learning and data analytics services, also announced it would unveil its first data centre in the Philippines by the end of 2021.
Furthermore, that it would establish its first international innovation centre, located in Malaysia, offering a one-stop shop platform for Malaysian SMEs, startups and developers to innovate in emerging technologies.
“We are seeing a strong demand for cloud-native technologies in emerging verticals across the region, from e-commerce and logistics platforms to FinTech and online entertainment. As the leading cloud service provider and trusted partner in APAC, we are committed to bettering the region’s cloud ecosystem and enhancing its digital infrastructure,” says Jeff Zhang, President, Alibaba Cloud Intelligence.
What other cloud providers are pledging in the region
This pledge by Alibaba to upskill both individuals and businesses follows Microsoft’s announcement in April that it was planning to upskill Malaysia’s population and would invest US$1bn over the next five years to build a new data centre centre in Malaysia.
This is the latest in a long line of pledges to the region by the US tech giant, which is fast accelerating the growth of its cloud datacenter footprint in Asia, expanding form seven 11 markets, and recently adding three new markets across Asia – Malaysia, Indonesia and Taiwan. Back in February, it announced plans to establish its first datacenter region in Indonesia and to skill an additional 3 million Indonesians to achieve its goal of empowering over 24 million Indonesians by the end of 2021.
And recent research by IDC shows that Microsoft’s most recent datacenter expansions in Malaysia, Indonesia and Taiwan alone are set to generate more than US$21bn in new revenues and will create 100,000 new jobs in the next four years.
Also last month, Tencent announced it has launched internet data centres in Bangkok, Hong Kong, Tokyo to add to its second availability zone opened in Korea last year and plans to add an internet data center in Indonesia, and Google has also been pushing into the enterprise space in Southeast Asia for several years now.
Expanding data centers allows cloud providers to boost their capacity in certain countries or regions.