RENO, Nev. — For more than a century, mining operations have logged core — a sample of rock in the shape of a cylinder — in a business-as-usual fashion.
The method: Geologists eyeball the core through a magnifying glass and try to identify and analyze minerals.
Reno-headquartered TerraCore is striving to shake up the mining business by bringing things into the digital age.
“Right now, they’re finding a typical geologist eyeballing core is about 20 percent accurate,” said Mark Landers, director of TerraCore, a geospectral imaging company. “We’re giving them about 95 — maybe even — 99 percent accuracy.”
Essentially, rather than survey trays of core with a magnifying loupe, TerraCore offers mining companies a nuanced imaging system and data storage through its Hyperspectral Core Imaging System.
“We are literally creating — I guess you could call it — a disruptive technology,” Landers said. “Because we are disrupting the way miners have done things for a century.”
Automating the process
TerraCore’s hyperspectral cameras allow for trays of core to be imaged in a single pass in under a minute — meaning, the company’s technology can rapidly process high volumes of core.
In the process, cameras span the full wavelength of the rock, from the visible all the way to the thermal infrared, unearthing the core’s spectral signature — “like your thumb or iris,” Landers explained.
“We capture that and we digitize it — it’s part of our library,” added Landers, referring to IntelliCore, the company’s cloud-based platform for data analytics, visualization and integration. “Over time, we know this signature equals that mineral.”
Further illustrating the machine vs. man disparity, Landers said geologists typically log only a couple hundred meters of core per day.
“This machine (of ours) ... we’re doing a thousand meters a day,” he said. “And every single millimeter of that core is being analyzed.”
In a nutshell, TerraCore is automating the process for geologists, said Paul Linton, chief business development officer at TerraCore.
“We’re also making it easier for them to make decisions,” Linton continued. “It becomes a lot easier for them to see where the different things are, whatever it is your attempting to mine — it could be gold, it could be copper, it could be gas, whatever it is.”
After all, the cost of core drilling isn’t cheap.
“You’re looking at probably 60 bucks a foot to drill,” Linton said. “So if you drill yourself a thousand-foot hole, that’s 60 grand right there.”
The global exploration budget in 2017 was a whopping $7.95 billion — the first increase since 2012, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence.
Golden opportunity in Silver State
In Nevada, a large chunk of that drilling is for gold. In fact, on its own, the Silver State is the fifth-largest producing gold entity in the world.
“Nevada is really one of our key areas,” Landers said. “It’s a really good place to be, and that’s why we’re here.”
Linton said in Nevada alone, TerraCore has about seven “solid” clients digitizing their mining cycle, including Newmont Mining and Barrick Gold Corp. here in Northern Nevada.
Linton said working with such companies that are global is a huge benefit.
“We can work with them in Nevada, but then they happen to be in Africa or South America, we can work with them there as well. So that helps a lot,” he said.
In all, Linton said, TerraCore is working in a “coherent and sustained fashion” with roughly a dozen companies throughout the world.
Formed in February 2015, TerraCore is a merger of Reno-based TerraCore International and South African-based GeoSpectral Imaging. Quite simply, both companies recognized the need for a digital tool to capture data from core.
“We decided it was a good idea to take these sensors and have them for drill core,” said Landers, who’s also the president and CEO of SpecTIR, an airborne hyperspectral services company, which spun off TerraCore International. “They (GeoSpectral Imaging) were also doing the same thing around the same time. We said, why not just combine forces?”
TerraCore has a team of 23 geologists, mathematicians, software engineers and operators in four countries, with the majority in Reno (8) and Johannesburg, South Africa (10).
Because their technology is brand new, Landers said TerraCore seeks opportunities to show companies the accuracy and value of their imaging and software. Initially, Linton said, their strategy was to try to work with as many clients as possible. That’s since changed.
“It was kind of ... kiss as many frogs as you could and see which ones turned into princesses,” he said, laughing. “We’ve stepped back from that and said, who are the big players on this planet. Those are the guys that we’ve actively gone after and persuaded.”