Canadian Earth ‘x-ray’ start-up Ideon Technologies is initiating the world’s first field trials of a muon detector that fits down industry-standard boreholes – together with French multi-national Orano Group, in a cooperative EUREKA-approved research and development project, and with funding support from the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC IRAP).
Ideon is a world pioneer in cosmic-ray muon tomography, which provides x-ray-like imaging to those who explore beneath the Earth’s surface. The Ideon discovery platform integrates proprietary muon detectors, imaging systems, inversion technologies, and artificial intelligence to produce 3D density maps of features up to 1 km underground. It improves geologists’ subsurface field-of-view, reducing the need for expensive drilling activity while increasing discovery certainty.
EUREKA is the world’s biggest platform for international cooperation in R&D and innovation. Funding is merit-based and highly competitive. As part of the collaboration, Ideon will receive advisory services and up to C$435,000 in funding support from NRC IRAP for the EUREKA-approved project. Orano is partnering on this project with cash and in-kind support, while Ideon is contributing survey design, detector development, discovery platform processing, and field deployment.
The objective of the project is to build and demonstrate the world’s first industry-standard borehole (< 10 cm diameter, HQ-gauge), low-power (< 10W continuous power consumption), zero-maintenance (10 years maintenance-free) muon tomography detector suitable for operation in the extreme environmental conditions of mineral exploration sites around the world.
Like most companies competing in the $12 billion USD global mineral exploration market, Orano has a vested interest in developing innovative, cost-effective methods of discovering new ore bodies while reducing their environmental footprint. “We have been collaborating with Ideon for several years to advance muon tomography for commercial use,” says Hervé Toubon, Research & Development and Innovation Director at Orano. “It is virtually impossible to detect high-grade uranium deposits at depth using conventional geophysical exploration techniques. We successfully deployed Ideon’s first-generation muon detectors in 2016-17 to image a deposit under 600m of sandstone. After the impressive results of that trial, we wanted to be first in line to test Ideon’s new borehole detectors. The ability to deploy 50x smaller detectors, down industry-standard boreholes has the potential to greatly lower our exploration costs, significantly improve our discovery rates, and help us meet our environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) commitments.”
“We have demonstrated through trials with Orano and other major mining companies that muon tomography is well positioned to transform subsurface discovery,” says Ideon CEO and Co-founder Gary Agnew. “We will now demonstrate that the shape, size, and data capture and processing capabilities of Ideon’s proprietary muon detectors can be deployed within the confines of typical exploration boreholes and deliver the performance required to map density in 3D with excellent spatial resolution. We are grateful to Orano for their ongoing partnership and to NRC IRAP for supporting Canadian innovation through programs such as EUREKA.”
Orano will host the field trial in Saskatchewan in 2021 near a known deposit representative of the depth, size, grade, and density contrasts of targeted deposits. The company will contribute a test drill hole and associated infrastructure, geological models, geophysical data, drill assay data, terrain models, and logistical support for detector deployment. Together, Ideon and Orano will interpret the acquired muon tomography data and to qualify it against existing drill data and other geophysical datasets.
The outcome of this applied R&D project will be a new, field-proven method for mapping dense ore bodies at depth, along with a suite of new measurement instruments and an enhanced body of learning related to the application of muon tomography for mineral exploration applications. Ideon’s new borehole detector is slated for commercial release in 2021.