Researchers at Western Australia’s Curtin University have developed new technology for the rapid cleaning and re-use of drilling fluids, paving the way toward more efficient and environmentally-friendly mineral exploration.
Designed to support next-generation drilling technology, the reformulated fluids are hydrocarbon-free, reducing the risk of environmental harm to exploration sites.
Supported by the Minerals Research Institute of Western Australia (MRIWA) and the Deep Exploration Technology CRC, Dr Masood Mostofi and his research team at the WA School of Mines: Minerals, Energy and Chemical Engineering at Curtin University developed the new technology as part of their ongoing research toward automating fluid monitoring and handling in the drilling industry.
Drillers exploring deep beneath the surface for mineral deposits need specialised fluids to lubricate and cool the active drill head, and that won’t leak away through cracks and porous rocks around the drill site.
“New coiled tubing drilling technology being developed for mineral exploration needs much higher volumes of these special fluids than conventional drilling,” Mostofi said.
“We have developed a system that can meet these fluid needs in remote locations where geologists might explore for new mineral deposits, and reduces the risk of releasing fluids that might affect the local environment.
“Our reformulated drilling fluid eliminates the use of hydrocarbons, and we have developed a new method for both keeping boreholes stable and rapidly separating rock chips and solid materials from the fluid as it returns to the surface.
“Working alongside partner technologies being developed in the MinEx CRC, this method will help deliver continuous samples of the rock material a drill is cutting through up to 1000m below the ground, while allowing the drilling fluid to be efficiently cleaned and recycled.”