Project Details

Description

Scotland-based company M-I Drilling Fluids UK Ltd (a subsiduary of Schlumberger), in conjunction with Innovate UK, are funding a KTP Associate to work with the company in extracting a strategic mineral resource in Perthshire.

The mineral resource is barite, a dense inert material that most people know as the active ingredient in ‘barium meals’ as the pulverised mineral is opaque to X-rays. On an industrial scale, barite is used mainly as a drilling fluid additive for oil and gas field development. With the decline in demand for this industry, barite could be used for other purposes such as increasing the density of concrete foundations that anchor wind turbines.

Barite has been mined for over 30 years from the nearby Foss mine, but the variable thickness and contortion of the orebody meant that production never reached a level that could satisfy the entire UK market. Duntanlich is a larger but less complex orebody, giving potential to improve productivity by increasing the size of the equipment used, and regularising the mine design.

Consequently, production capacity can meet UK demands but also export to other markets. This project will develop and implement effective real-time in-situ assaying procedures and 3D grade modelling to facilitate selective mining of high grade barite.

Generating information on the geological architecture of the Duntanlich orebody will meet scientific goals to reconstruct the original depositional environment and ore-forming processes that produced this globally distinctive ore deposit.

M-I Drilling Fluids Ltd employ around 30 people who live in Perthshire and work at Foss Barite Mine. Underground mining started in the mid-1980s at which time the PI, Norman Moles, researched the geology and mineralogy of the orebody for his PhD at Edinburgh University.

Thirty-five years on, after the extraction of about one million tonnes of ore, Foss Mine has reached the end of economical production. The company are currently constructing a new underground mine a few kilometres to the northeast of the Foss deposit in another barite orebody known as the Duntanlich deposit.

The construction of this new mine presents a unique opportunity to transform traditional extraction methods by implementing selective mining to minimise energy expenditure and waste, while expanding production to meet the entire UK market for barite and to supply products to new markets.

Dr Norman Moles and his colleague Dr Jake Ciborowski at the University of Brighton have expertise in geochemical analysis and 3D visualization of the underground orebody, both of which will be crucial to the success of the selective mining operation.

The geochemist recruited under the KTP scheme will work closely with Moles and Ciborowski, together with M-I employees, to develop in-house barite assaying methods and apply the results to mine planning and product quality control.

The team will acquire a vast amount of information on the geological ‘architecture’ and distribution of minerals within the Duntanlich orebody, enabling reconstruction of the original depositional environment and ore-forming processes.

These processes are of considerable scientific interest as the orebody formed at a time of immense changes in the oceans and atmosphere that occurred around 600 million years ago.

Layman's description


Short titleTransforming underground mining of barite rock in the Scottish Highlands
StatusNot started
Effective start/end date1/10/2030/06/23

Funding

  • Innovate UK - KTP