Getting water smart, metal by metal


Water is a key ingredient in metal production.


By Emily Lehmann

In an arid country like Australia, we need to make sure we do our best to conserve water and we’ve come up with a way that will help industry do just that.

It involves life cycle analysis, and it can calculate the amount of water used – both directly and indirectly – in the production of metals.

To give you an idea, we calculated that it takes 1600 litres of water to make the 19 kilograms of copper in an average medium-sized car. Add up the water required to make all of the other metals found in your car and you’re practically driving around a swimming pool!

Water is an essential ingredient in a metal’s transformation from an impure mineral ore to a pure metal product. The more impurities, or the lower the grade of the ore, the more water it takes to process it.

In Australia many of our high grade ores have been depleted, so industry is increasingly mining these lower-grade ores. Mines are also often located in remote Australia where water is a scarce resource so as you can imagine, the interest in reducing water use is high.

While the minerals industry already makes good use of water recycling opportunities, this in itself is not always the best way to improve sustainability.

There's more copper (and water) in your car than you might think.

There’s more copper (and water) in your car than you might think.

“Recycling water is not always a straightforward task,” says lead researcher, Dr Nawshad Haque.

“Water may be degraded or contaminated during mineral extraction and production processes, and in order for it to be reused it must be treated to meet the specifications required for plant operations.”

Our research team focussed on the most water intensive metals including nickel, copper and gold. By providing information on water usage and comparisons to other industrial processes, the tool will enable better water management.

You can read the full story in the latest issue of resourceful, released this week.

Get recycling people, it’s National Recycling Week

By Emily Lehmann

As part of National Recycling Week, we thought we’d shine the light on recycling’s superhero: aluminium.

Most of us come into contact with this lightweight and durable metal every day – think soft drink cans, al-foil and computers.

It’s 100 per cent recyclable, and 75 per cent of all the aluminium ever produced is still in use today.

According to Australia’s largest aluminium recycler, Alcoa, it can be recycled from bin to the shelf in as little as 60 days.

Learn more about how this metal rocks in our infographic:

Aluminium In The Rough


Planet Ark’s National Recycling Week runs from 11 to 17 November 2013. Visit Planet Ark for some tips on recycling aluminium cans.

Gum leaves rich in lil’ gold nuggets

By Emily Lehmann

Gum leaf samples showing traces of manganese.

Gum leaf samples showing traces of manganese.

While money doesn’t grow on trees per se, we’ve found that precious gold does.

Our scientists have revealed that gum trees from the Western Australian goldfields draw up tiny particles of gold via their roots and it ends up in their leaves and branches.

The study published in Nature Communications today provides the first evidence of gold growing in trees.

Eucalyptus leaves showing traces of different minerals.

“The eucalypt acts as a hydraulic pump – its roots extend tens of metres into the ground and draw up water containing the gold. As the gold is likely to be toxic to the plant, it’s moved to the leaves and branches where it can be released or shed to the ground,” CSIRO geochemist, Dr Mel Lintern says.

Prospectors be warned – the discovery is unlikely to start an old-time gold rush – the ‘nuggets’ are just one-fifth the diameter of a human hair and invisible to the eye.

Yet, it could provide a golden opportunity for mineral exploration, as the leaves or soil underneath the trees where they have fallen could indicate gold ore deposits buried up to tens of metres underground and under sediments that are up to 60 million years old.

“The leaves could be used in combination with other tools to get an idea of what’s happening below the surface without the need to drill. It could enhance gold exploration in a way that’s more targeted and environmentally friendly,” says Dr Lintern.

The research team used the powerful x-ray elemental imaging equipment at the Australian Synchrotron to locate and see the gold in the leaves.

Read more on our media page.

Media: Emily Lehmann, P: +61 419 271 822,

Animation: A closer look at the ‘mag’ element

By Emily Lehmann

Back in the heyday of The Beatles and mop-top haircuts, mag wheels were all the rage.

Mags were the earliest lightweight alloy wheel made from magnesium. They were the start of a lasting fashion trend and the car industry’s move towards making lighter vehicles.

The lightest of all metals, magnesium can be used to replace other heavy steel components to make lighter, more fuel efficient cars that benefit the environment and your hip pocket.

A key challenge for industry however, has been the ability to produce the metal economically.

This could soon change with our cost-effective and environmentally friendly MagSonic process.

MagSonic produces magnesium as fast as the speed of sound, while using significantly less energy. It could make the metal viable to produce in Australia.

Check out how our MagSonic process works in this short animation.

Back to the future to uncover hidden riches

By Emily Lehmann

LECODE modelling

Iron rich material in the deposit: The orange showing areas with the highest percentage of iron.

We’ve created our very own time machine – a new modelling tool that can simulate millions of years of landscape evolution and possibly reveal hidden treasures.

Using the tool called LECODE, and iVEC’s supercomputer, our scientists travelled back in time to pinpoint the exact moment when deposits formed in the iron-rich Hamersley province in Western Australia.

The study has revealed potential locations for hidden and unexplored iron ore deposits.

“We simulated how erosion and water flow influenced the transport of sediment over thousands to millions of years, showing how the iron-rich soils were carried from one place to another to build sedimentary deposits,” says researcher Dr Guillaume Duclaux.

“Sedimentary (aka alluvial) deposits at the Earth’s surface can host significant mineral resources, however exploring them is challenging because they are built from layers of transported material that effectively hide the mineral deposits within,” he says.

“By exploring the material’s movement from the hill slopes to the valleys, we can predict the location of larger deposits hosted underground.”

There’s a high economic value attached to sedimentary iron deposits, which provide 40 per cent of Australia’s iron ore exports.

“Geologists and explorers could use the tool to make new mineral discoveries and it will reduce exploration costs and the environmental impacts associated with traditional drilling techniques,” Dr Duclaux says.

“This research has brought up new questions around the processes that trigger the formation of this type of deposit, which we’re investigating next,” he says.

These graphs shows the accumulation of iron-rich material in sedimentary deposits.

The accumulation of iron-rich (Fe) material in the deposit.

Our tool is a 3D modelling code tailored to solve problems related to basin and landscape evolution. It could also be applied to other resources, such as gold and petroleum.

Dr Duclaux, Dr Tristan Salles and Dr Erick Ramanaidou presented this work at the AusIMM Iron Ore 2013 conference last week.

Learn more about CSIRO’s research in mineral exploration.

Wireless WASPs let loose in underground mines

We’re buzzing with excitement over our new wireless tracking technology – it can hone in on mine workers deep underground, helping to save lives and boost productivity.

Dr Mark Hedley and Dr Jay Gao with WASP

Dr Mark Hedley and Dr Jay Guo show off WASP.

WASP (Wireless Ad hoc System for Positioning) can track people and objects to an accuracy of about half a metre, a great improvement on conventional methods such as GPS and WiFi-based tracking, which in underground environments are  either inaccurate or don’t work at all.

It was commercialised by mining communication company Minetec and incorporated into their Trax+Tags II suite, which is being launched today at the Asia Pacific International Mining Exhibition in Sydney.

“WASP is critical to modern underground mining and will significantly improve productivity, lower operational costs, and reduce health and safety issues for mining operations,” says Andy Sheppard, executive general manager of Minetec.

“The high resolution situational awareness improves the accuracy of forecasted productivity thus closes the gap between planned and actual targets.

The Trax+Tags II user interface.

The Trax+Tags II user interface.

“It is a revolutionary technology that offers a highly accurate, cost-effective tracking solution for underground mining and we are hoping to expand its use for aboveground in the near future.”

Wireless systems expert Dr Mark Hedley who led the project, says WASP uses small mobile tags attached to vehicles or mine workers together with a series of reference nodes placed at known locations around the area being monitored.

“These nodes communicate wirelessly, calculating the arrival time of signals, allowing the system to accurately track the location and speed of objects as they move through an underground mine pit or tunnel,” he says.

“The technology can be used to locate workers in emergency situations and has the ability to act as a network that could send sensor data such as a worker’s heart rate, core temperature or gas or radiation levels in the surrounding environment.”

Our research focuses on enhancing safety, increasing productivity and improving efficiency through wireless technologies in a range of sectors including mining, construction, infrastructure.

Find out more about WASP.


Media contact: Crystal Ladiges. Ph: +61 3 9545 2982, mob: 0477 336 854, e:

Would you like to SUPER SIZE that bug?

Chad Henry is buggin' out with his supersized bugs.

Chad Henry with his super-sized creatures

By Angela Beggs

This week, we’ve taken miniscule insects, like wheat weevils and Christmas beetles, and scaled them right up to almost 40 times their original size using a 3D scanning system.

We took the scanned files and sent them through our 3D printer and…. Voilà! In just 10 hours there were GIANT bugs everywhere, made from the finest quality titanium of course.

Our scientists are buggin’ out at the new 3D printed creatures because they show exciting new potential for entomologists studying the anatomy of miniscule insects by enabling them to physically handle them and study their features right up close.

They believe this technology will soon enable them to determine characteristics, such as gender, and examine surface characteristics which are otherwise difficult due to the minute size of, say, a tiny wheat weevil at only 3mm long.

Although printing bugs is unchartered territory for our scientists, they’re usually busy working in areas such as aerospace, automotive and biomedical, it brings together two really important areas of science – entomology and material science.

So weev (pardon the pun) still got a lot to learn from these super sized beetles and wheat weevils, but for now, we think our big bugs are the crème of the crop.

Want more info on 3D printing? Click here.

Fault lines lead to gold

Aerial of the San Andeas Fault.

The San Andreas Fault won’t lead you to gold, but a smaller fault line just might…Image: Huffington Post

Small-scale fault systems in the Earth’s crust have a strong correlation with the location of gold, a recent study of the St Ives Goldfields in Western Australia has found.

The research, published in science journal Ore Geology Reviews, found that all major gold deposits are controlled by faults, but small fault systems are more likely to lead to gold than larger ones.

Researcher Dr Carsten Laukamp says the relationship between fault systems and gold traces is key to understanding the genesis of gold and could be used to help locate any commodity.

“Determining the spatial relationship between geological features such as fault lines, and gold traces, is not only important to understand how deposits form, it can also guide mineral exploration because we can use this information to develop predictive mineral maps,” he says.

predictive map

Predictive mineral map: reds indicate areas of high potential for gold traces and the blues represent the low potential areas.

Dr Laukamp and the team developed a predictive mineral map of the St Ives Goldfields that shows new prospective areas where there is a high likelihood that gold could be located.

“We used information such as rock type, colour, shape and size and geological boundaries – all information we can gather from drilling samples – to develop the map,” Dr Laukamp says.

“This research is one step in the development of predictive mineral maps that integrate various types of geological data.

“Next, we’ll incorporate data collected from aircrafts and satellites, such as geophysical and spectroscopic data, which will improve the information value and accuracy of the predictive mineral map.”

This research was carried out by a collaborative team of researchers from Curtin University of Technology, the ARC Centre of Excellence for Core to Crust Fluid Systems and CSIRO.

Learn more about our research in mineral exploration.

Media enquiries: Liz Greenbank | 03 9545 8563 |

There’s a new name in the Hall of Fame

By Angela Beggs

Geoff Bell, Company Chairman, A.W. Bell and his wife Yvonne Bell at the Hall of Fame Gala event

Geoff Bell, Company Chairman, AW Bell and his wife Yvonne Bell at the Hall of Fame Gala event.

Victorian metal casting company AW Bell has taken out this year’s Manufacturer of the Year Award for a medium sized business.

A Victorian Government initiative, the Victorian Manufacturing Hall of Fame Awards salute excellence in manufacturing.

Located in Dandenong, Victoria, AW Bell is a family owned and operated Australian small to medium enterprise (SME). They have been servicing Aussie manufacturers for more than 50 years with complex metal parts for demanding applications in areas such as defence, automotive and even biomedical.

In 2010 AW Bell partnered with CSIRO and brought on our materials expert, Dr Roger Lumley, with support from Enterprise Connect’s Researchers in Business program.

As a result of the company’s involvement in the Researchers in Business program, and the work performed throughout Roger’s placement, AW Bell are now the preferred supplier to a major international company within the aerospace industry.

But the casting business didn’t just stop at one award, they also had a staff member recognised as the Young Manufacturer of the Year –  Steve Murtagh.

So congratulations are in order for AW Bell for their innovation in manufacturing; quality management; sustainable practices; export record and enabling technologies.

We salute excellence in manufacturing!

For more information visit the Awards website.

Antacids cure more than just belly aches

By Emily Lehmann

What rhymes with stalactite (well, kinda) and can put your heartburn at bay? Hydrotalcite.

Believe it or not, an antacid – hydrotalcite – is the key agent used in a new treatment our scientists have developed for removing contaminants from mining wastewater.

Like hydrotalcites can reduce acidity and indigestion in sour tummies, we found that they can also be used in wastewater to trap unwanted nasties for easy removal.

The treatment is set to make water management practices across the mining industry more sustainable. It will also reduce the amount of sludge, which is a by-product of the water treatment process that is difficult to dispose of, by up to 90 per cent.


Purifying wastewaters in one step.

Hydrotalcites are made-up of layered minerals consisting of aluminium and magnesium-rich layers. Our scientists discovered that they form in wastewater when the aluminium and magnesium (common contaminants already present in wastewater) levels are tweaked to an ideal ratio and the pH is increased.

The one-step process purifies the wastewater from mines in a faster, more effective way than the lime-based treatments currently being used by the mining industry.

The key issue with lime-based methods has been the volume of sludge that forms and the subsequent problems with dealing with this sludge – either to extract the contained water, which often requires additional treatment, or to find enough space for long-term disposal.

The new treatment overcomes these problems by producing a lot less sludge – that is around 80 to 90 per cent less sludge in initial results.

The treated water can also be recycled back into the plant to lower the total cost of water used in the mining operations, ultimately helping to reduce water consumption.

Check out more of CSIRO’s research in the minerals and land and water fields.

Media enquiries: Emily Lehmann|+61 39545 8746|

CSIRO goes outback

We all know what stereotypical scientists look like. They’re clad in white lab coats and safety glasses, stirring a bubbling beaker or transferring something from one test tube to another using one of those squeezy things, but not all scientist look like these guys and – gasp – not all of them work in a lab.

Yes, we’re talking about geologists. The scientists that come home after a field trip in the same outfit they left in, having not washed for days and covered in dirt.

These lovely, albeit somewhat smelly, scientists were kind enough to take some footage of their lab – the outback.

The team of three travelled a total of 5000km to the Hamersley Basin in the Pilbara region of Western Australia, where they conducted a survey of volcanic rocks in the region.

Iron ore is prolific in these parts and the chemistry of the rocks underneath the iron ore can tell them a lot.

They were looking at the rocks’ chemistry in order to form a baseline of information, which will allow them to better identify anomalies associated with the presence of iron ore, gold and other minerals in volcanic areas.

Video transcript available here

A new approach to managing mineral resources

Most Australians appreciate that our wealth of mineral resources supported our economy during the global recession, but others believe this industry is damaging our country.Sifting Soil

According to a report released this week,  Advantage Australia: resource governance and innovation for the Asian Century, it is time for Australia to re-think how it manages its mineral resources to deliver long-term benefit in the decades to come.

A national minerals strategy would deliver a coherent and responsible approach to our mineral resources and would ensure that they are used wisely to advantage the whole nation.

The findings are the result of a three-year collaboration between The University of Queensland, University of Technology Sydney, CSIRO, Curtin University, CQ University and the Australian National University.

Dr Damien Guirco, research director of the UTS Institute for Sustainable Futures says the current state of play in Australia is inadequate.

“The minerals industry has always operated in an evolving global landscape, but it’s becoming clear that social and environmental factors will become more important to head off future vulnerability,” Dr Giurco says.

“A national strategy would remove the complexities of differing regulations across states and territories and shift the focus towards maximising long-term social, economic and environmental benefits for communities, regions and the nation.”

Anna Littleboy, leader of CSIRO’s mineral futures research, says that the industry is working in an increasingly difficult environment.

“In many ways our economy has benefitted from recent high commodity prices, but the global competitiveness of Australia’s minerals industry is under pressure because of declining ore grades, declining productivity and limited ability to access labour and capital,” she says.

“New practices such as automation are being introduced and we need to understand both short and long term impacts.

“Likewise, as pressure mounts on precious environmental resources such as water and land, long-term sustainable practices are become ever more important. These are issues facing the nation; they are not isolated to particular states or mining operations.”

The report recommends the industry implement ethical and responsible supply chains; collect and provide  data on economic, social and environmental impacts; respond to environmental and social pressure with transformational technologies such as renewable energy; grow Australia’s high value skills to improve workforce stability; facilitate investment and regulatory reform; and measure the industry’s performance on a national scale.

This research was undertaken through the Mineral Futures Collaboration Cluster.

Media enquiries: Liz Greenbank, Communication Manager, CSIRO Minerals Down Under Flagship

e:, t: 03 9545 8563

Taking humans out of hazardous situations

Underground mines can be hazardous places for humans, which is why the industry is investing in robots and automated vehicles to keep workers safe.

We developed a system for load-haul-dump vehicles, commercialised by Caterpillar and now called Minestar-Command-Underground, which takes humans out of the equation and allows the vehicle to react to its environment all by itself.

A load-haul-dump vehicle if you can guess, is an underground mining vehicle that loads, hauls and dumps mineral ore from the mine at an open stope (where the minerals are) to a crusher or truck to be transported to the surface.


The Minestar-Command-Underground system.

A combination of onboard computers, sensors and lasers enables the vehicle to tram to and from load and dump points on autopilot, which accurately steers the machine to prevent it hitting walls.

Unlike other systems, there is no prescribed path for the vehicle to take – the system continuously reacts to the environment and decides for itself how to respond. As it drives, it builds a map of the underground structure and compares it to an abstract mine map, evaluating the information before getting into any trouble.

If you’re thinking that robots are taking our jobs don’t worry, humans aren’t entirely out of the equation. Instead of getting dirty underground, they’re sitting in a comfortable office tracking the vehicle’s progress as digital video is sent via WiFi.

And not only does Minestar-Command-Underground make mining safer, it also increases the efficiency and productivity of the mine.

Saving water and enjoying a good shower? It CAN happen

As Australians battle another hot, dry summer, a new shower nozzle that uses up to 50 per cent less water while maintaining the sensation of full pressure could provide us with guilt-free showers – simply by adding air.

Dr Jie Wu, one of our fluids specialist, says the Oxijet nozzle feels just as wet and strong as a full flow shower, but uses much less water. It also differs from traditional ‘low flow’ devices.

fresh shower

Hollow water? Who would have thought…
Photo from iStock.

“Traditional flow restrictors reduce flow and pressure, whereas Oxijet uses the flow energy to draw air into the water stream, making the water droplets hollow,” Dr Wu said.

“This expands the volume of the shower stream, so you can save the same amount of water, while still enjoying the illusion of a full flow shower.”

With Melbourne’s daily water use this summer doubling from the former target of 155 litres per day  and the price of water going up, the new shower nozzle could provide some cost effective, water saving relief.

The device was recently trialled by Novotel Northbeach in Wollongong and is planned to be installed across the whole hotel.

“With over 200 rooms we go through over 10 million litres of water per year, so any saving we can make is very important. We’ve found our customers prefer Oxijet over other ‘low flow’ shower heads, because it gives the illusion of full water pressure,” Mr Walter Immoos, General Manager of Novotel Northbeach said.

Oxijet was developed by New Zealand company Felton in collaboration with CSIRO and It can be fitted to most existing shower heads. It is accredited by the Australian Watermark and Water Efficiency and Labelling Standards and is available for purchase across Australia.

Check out how it works:

Biomaterials are the business

By Kylie Williams

Safflower power! Safflower can be used to produce oils and biomaterials.

Safflower power! Safflower can be used to produce oils and biomaterials.

Petrochemicals are, like, so last century. Biodegradable, bioderived biomaterials are all the rage, and for good reason too.

Products like plastics, paints, adhesives and lubricants are mostly derived from dwindling supplies of petroleum, an increasingly costly finite resource.

With pressure mounting to reduce our dependence on petroleum products, CSIRO is leading the charge to develop new, sustainable bioplastics from renewable resources and to use plants as biofactories to produce industrial products.

In the early 2000s, CSIRO developed a bio-derived and biodegrable starch-based packaging material. Australian company Plantic was set up to commercialise the product, which was subsequently manufactured in various forms for packaging refrigerated fresh foods such as meats, fish and pasta, and for chocolate trays that were used by customers including Nestlé, Lindt and Cadbury Schweppes.

It is estimated that Plantic bioplastics require 50 per cent less energy to manufacture and have 40–70 per cent lower greenhouse gas emissions for production than conventional plastics.

CSIRO is also working with Biofiba Limited to develop a revolutionary material (BioFiba88) that can be moulded into planks to replace timber used in export shipping pallets. Billions of timber export pallets are manufactured and sold globally each year.

More recently, CSIRO used gene silencing technology to develop a new variety of the safflower plant – its oil contains the world’s highest levels of valuable oleic acid. The oil combines high-purity for industrial chemical production with tremendous stability for direct use in industrial lubricants and fluids, creating a versatile, valuable industrial raw material produced above the ground, not below it.


Want to know more? Read our bioplastic case studies or listen to the podcast on safflower.


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