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Technological development

As mineral exploration field move into deeper and more remote areas of the world, more efficient exploration is needed. JOGMEC is challenging R&D of mineral exploration technology and metal resource recycling technology and improving metal extraction technology. JOGMEC is also carrying out R&D for promoting ocean metal resources development.

Development of exploration and production techniques

Remote Sensing Exploration Techniques

Remote sensing is capable of collecting data from a wide area through the use of a sensor system mounted on a satellite or aircraft. There are two types of sensors used for mineral exploration: optical sensors that measure the spectral data of sunlight reflected from the Earth's surface and synthetic aperture radar (SAR) sensors that transmit microwaves and receive the back scatter waves from the Earth's surface. The remote sensing data are used in mineral exploration to understand the geology and geological structures and to identify areas with potential for mineralization.

JOGMEC has developed mineral exploration techniques to identify hydrothermal alteration zone by using optical sensors data, and also realized geology discrimination techniques to promote the efficient mineral exploration in vegetated areas by using SAR data.

Case of image analysis

  • ASTER short wavelength infrared image<br />Altered rocks are displayed in pink and green.

    ASTER short wavelength infrared image
    Altered rocks are displayed in pink and green.

  • ASTER visible and near infrared image High-resolution image

    ASTER visible and near infrared image High-resolution image

  • ASTER spectral ratioing image Minerals are displayed<br />in diff erent colors.

    ASTER spectral ratioing image Minerals are displayed
    in diff erent colors.

Geophysical Exploration Techniques

All components of SQUITEM3

All components of SQUITEM3

Geophysical methods are applied to investigate geological structures, to identify promising areas, and to locate orebodies by clarifying the distributions of physical properties in the Earth.

JOGMEC has researched and developed “SQUITEM”, which increases the depth and accuracy of exploration. “SQUITEM” is the transient electromagnetics (TEM) system using the High Temperature Superconductive QUantum Interface Device (HT SQUID) magnetometers.

The conventional TEM data acquisition system obtains the time rate of the magnetic field (dB/dt) which causes an inherent weakness of the conventional system, lower sensitivity for conductive targets and smaller depth of investigation than the direct magnetic field measurement. HT SQUID is a high-sensitive magnetic sensor that measures the survey field directly, and has wide bandwidth enough for metal exploration. Therefore, JOGMEC applied the HT SQUID to TEM as a magnetometer.

Until now, SQUITEM already applied to more than 10 exploration projects all over the world.

Development of hydrometallurgical technology using bioleaching, in Chile

Bioleaching is a technology to enhance the leaching of metal ions by using the action of microorganisms, and is used in the leaching process in a hydrometallurgical system. JOGMEC is performing search and evaluation of microorganisms and column leaching tests and, based on the test data, carrying out validation tests at a pilot plant in Chile, using locally-produced copper ore.

Development of metal recycling and refining technology

Development of technology for recovering rare metals from waste small electronic and electric appliances

Small electronic and electric appliances contain base metals such as copper and zinc, precious metals including gold, as well as rare metals such as tantalum and cobalt. JOGMEC has been carrying out tests for recovering these metals from waste small electronic and electrical appliances and fact-finding surveys, as well as basic tests for establishing the flow for recovering rare metals. Since 2012, JOGMEC has also been developing recycling technology for recovering tantalum and cobalt.

Waste small electronic and electrical appliances(image)

Waste small electronic and electrical appliances(image)

Exploration of deep-sea mineral resources and technological development

Polymetallic nodules, cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts and polymetallic sulphides lie on the sea-floor, and those are the greatest unexploited mineral resources on the earth. JOGMEC is actively surveying deep-sea-floor to secure stable supply of mineral resources to Japan.

Deep-sea mineral resources

Polymetallic sulphides

Polymetallic sulphides

These are hydrothermal mineral deposits containing copper, zinc, lead, gold, silver, etc., which take place in response to mixing of metal-rich hydrothermal fluid with ambient seawater.

Cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts

Cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts

Cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts are similar to manganese nodules and consist of iron and manganese oxides. They cover the bed rock on the slopes and tops of seamounts, with thicknesses ranging from several millimeters to several tens of centimeters. The cobalt content of cobalt-rich crusts is roughly three times that of manganese nodules, and cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts also contain small amounts of platinum.

Manganese nodules

Manganese nodules

Manganese nodules are lumps of iron and manganese oxides of roughly 2 to 15 centimeters in diameter, which are half-buried on flat ocean floors at depths between 4,000 and 6,000 meters. They contain useful metals such as nickel, copper and cobalt.

Exploration activities for deep sea polymetallic sulphides

From 1985 to 2003, JOGMEC carried out surveys for polymetallic sulphides in the East Pacific Rise, the Okinawa Trough and the Izu-Bonin back-arc basin. JOGMEC has conducted resource estimate surveys since 2008. In 2012, JOGMEC conducted a deep drilling survey for deep sea polymetallic sulphides in the Okinawa Trough using the research vessel “Hakurei,” and discovered a deeper ore body beneath seabed sediments. In addition, JOGMEC successfully carried out the worldʼs first crawl and mining test using a small test mining machine and has started to develop actual machines.

Survey of sea-floor polymetallic sulphides

Survey of sea-floor polymetallic sulphides

Exploration activities for cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts

Since 1987, JOGMEC has been conducting surveys for cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts in the Area in the central to northwest Pacific. Based on the survey results and after screening by the International Seabed Authority(ISA), JOGMEC acquired exclusive exploration rights to an area (3000 km2) in international waters 600 km southeast of Minami Torishima (Marcus Island) in 2014.JOGMEC is caving out the exploration work on the basis of the contract with ISA.

Location map of exploration areas for cobalt-rich crusts

Exploration activities for manganese nodules

JOGMEC carried out resource distribution surveys and resource assessment surveys from 1975 to 1996. Based on the results, JOGMEC acquired a manganese nodule exploration area of 75,000km2 in the ocean southeast of Hawaii in December 1987, pursuant to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. JOGMEC resumed surveys in this exploration area in 2011.

Marine resource research vessel “Hakurei”

Marine resource research vessel “Hakurei”