Is the world’s gold supply running out? Various reports claim not enough gold is being mined to keep up with worldwide demand, and a decrease in production is imminent. Some of the reasons are:
- Gold mining requires substantial capital investment to uncover what is usually an elusive target, and in the contracting mining marketplace, financing is becoming scarce.
- With less money available, fewer projects are being pursued. The “easy” deposits have already been explored/mined and the “hidden” deposits need special and more expensive techniques.
- The most productive deposits are getting tapped out, and few substantial deposits have been discovered over the past decade.
- Discoveries that actually do become mines can take up to two decades to come online.
- The decline in gold prices over the last three years has resulted in less gold being recycled back into the market.
The World Gold Council’s Gold Demand Trends Q2 2014 report maintains that while gold mine production actually increased to record highs in the first two quarters of 2014, mine supply may have peaked and will likely plateau in the next year or so as productivity diminishes and further cost cutting opportunities run out. The report also points out that fewer consumers are selling or recycling their gold in the current pricing climate.
More Effective and Economical Mining Operations
One potential solution to the gold dilemma is increasing mining efficiency. To quickly identify the most economically viable resources, geologists may use geophysical methods, including airborne gravity, 3D modeling of electrical data, and infrared spectroscopy (satellite, airborne, and field-based) to measure variations in rock characteristics that may indicate the presence of gold. Although these geophysical methods can be crucial for gold exploration, geochemical methods – including portable x-ray florescence (XRF) – are the only way to measure concentration of gold and other associated elements. Portable XRF is used in various stages of gold exploration and mining to find pathfinder elements and sources of gold in stream sediments, for core logging, identification of lithologies, and even grade control.
Improved Analysis of Gold “By-Products”
Not all gold is mined directly. Lead and zinc processing produces gold and silver by-products. While these precious metals are considered to be pollutants in the refinement process, they can be more valuable than the primary ore elements. A good method of analysis for silver and gold in the ore material is wavelength dispersive x-ray fluorescence (WDXRF). The very high sensitivity achieved with a WDXRF spectrometer provides excellent precision and accuracy in the analysis of silver and gold in lead and zinc ore minerals and thus a more cost effective and profitable mining operation.
Optical Emission Spectrometry (OES) is another important analytical method to determine precious metal concentration. OES instrumentation is available that can analyze the gold concentrations directly in fire assay lead buttons, thereby streamlining and speeding up the fire assay process. The traditional fire assay method is accurate, has low detection limits, and can accommodate virtually any ore type, however it is disadvantageous in terms of productivity and costs. Precious metal producers, companies producing copper or nickel with precious metals as a by-product, companies producing precious metals from recycled materials, and contract or service laboratories that normally perform fire assay analysis can gain many advantages from OES. The OES fire assay analyzer requires much less labor, time, and cost, and is suitable for the analysis of many kinds of samples including geological samples in the gold and platinum mining industries, samples in the precious metals industries, or industrial samples such as catalytic converters.