Exploring value beyond minerals

Coordinators from the West African and South American eXploration Initiatives join Carly Leonida to discuss the value that mineral exploration programmes can bring, not just to the mining industry, but to communities too

My musings on creating value for all through mining recently led me to the team at Amira Global.

Amira was established more than 60 years ago by six large mining companies in order to tackle challenges that were larger than any one organisation could address. The group continues to develop projects at scale which support its members and span a huge range of topics that are helping to address the mega-challenges facing this industry.

Dr Anil Subramanya, general manager for Enabling Futures at Amira, told me about the West African eXploration Initiative (WAXI) and South American eXploration Initiative (SAXI) – two projects coordinated by Amira which are generating huge value, not just for the mining and metals industry but for local communities and research organisations too.

Naturally, I had to find out more…

“When building our geoscience projects, we incorporate pathways for delivering impact,” he explained. “A great example of this is capacity building. What good is research and new knowledge if it is not well understood how to use it?

“Building a community around each project also has benefits and it’s hoped that this will identify other opportunities for work and collaborations. So far, we are on the fourth iteration of WAXI so that seems to ring true! This is central to Amira Global’s Enabling Futures initiative that focuses on delivery and implementation pathways.”

From West Africa to South America

Principal researcher, Professor Mark Jessell from the University of Western Australia (UWA), and Amira Global’s Manager Collaboration, Hayley McGillivray, are leading the projects and agreed to tell me more.

“WAXI is one of the most significant projects in the Amira Geoscience portfolio,” McGillivray said. “It’s based on fundamental research, building a vast geoscience community in West Africa, and working with research, industry and geological surveys. This intersection and collaboration between research, industry and government can be quite a powerful combination and the impact of WAXI over the years speaks to that.”

WAXI boasts one of the region’s most valuable geographic information system (GIS) and data packages spanning multiple countries and languages, all underpinned by robust geological knowledge and best practice.

As Subramanya mentioned, capacity building is at its heart. This is achieved through in-country industry training courses and the development of masters and PhD students in Africa.

All of these aspects combined lead to a powerful, informative and impactful project.

WAXI is currently in its fourth iteration (nicknamed WAXI4) and is open to sponsorship. The three previous programmes have taken place over the last 15 years.

“One of the benefits of sponsoring WAXI4 is access to the GIS data and research outcomes from the full 15 years of project work,” McGillivray told me. “We would like to start a conversation about the benefits for those companies actively exploring, mining or interested in the West African region.”

WAXI4 builds on the existing collaborations and research strengths to include new potential for mineralisation in the Archean sedimentary basins and the Pan-African orogen, which in turn increases the project’s geographic scope.

Jessell explained: “The primary focus of WAXI4 remains the Birimian formations, and a series of modules on mineral systems will be undertaken to tie together the different geographic and age domains. Of course, we retain our commitment to capacity building by working with the recently launched NGO, Agate Project Ltd, which supports capacity building in the earth and planetary sciences across Africa.”

He added: “In terms of future work, we are at the early stages of understanding what a comparison project to look at the geological relationship between WAXI and SAXI looks like.

Leaving a positive legacy

To date, WAXI has produced over 95 Masters and PhD students, of which two thirds come from Africa. This will help ensure the research continues long after the project finishes. Some of the students trained through the project have gone on to lead further research or take industry roles and are leading field programs in the region.

“Graduates of WAXI are already working as lecturers in five West African universities, ensuring the knowledge they have gained in partnership with WAXI can be passed on to the next generation,” said Jessell.

Another legacy of the WAXI initiative is the project structure with the cross-country regional datasets and compilation, fundamental research to develop understanding and local research and industry capacity building.

This has since been successfully replicated in the SAXI project and the team are currently looking for the next destination where the mining industry would like to see a similar project.

“Early-stage collaborations offer multiple opportunities, including increased knowledge and understanding, a more regional context to project knowledge, and the identification of new targets,” said McGillivray.

“Mining is changing, and the more information and understanding companies have around their primary asset (the orebody), the more informed their choices will be as the project progresses. Equally, a robust understanding of orebody formation and mineral systems may help in further discovery.”

To date, WAXI has produced over 95 Masters and PhD students (Image: Amira Global)

At a more practical level, multi-sponsor collaborative projects can offer leveraged funding opportunities and access to data and insight and knowledge that would not otherwise be available.

Where to next?

“Do you think more mineral exploration projects should look to incorporate shared value initiatives going forward?” I asked the team.

“Amira would love to see collaborative R&D projects become a more commonly used tool and part of every organisation’s exploration strategy,” McGillivray said.

“Knowledge is power, and there is high demand for expediting new discoveries and progression of exploration projects. The WAXI model has already led to a sister-project, SAXI, which was proposed by the industry itself to address similar challenges in the Guiana Shield. We are currently seeking to understand what other regions, such as East Africa, may benefit from a project of this nature.”

Subramanya added: “Amira provides an independent, non-partisan and trusted global platform that can be used to harness the true power of collaboration, leading to innovation and implementation of new ideas and technology.”

WAXI fast facts
• Operating in 12 countries
• 75 partners involved over 15 years
• 95 Postdoc, PhD, Masters and honours projects, 2/3 of them African
• 109 international publications
• 650GB exploration geoscience database
• 1,800 person-days of technical training in West Africa
• 650,000km2 of geophysically constrained geological mapping

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