Singapore-based Atomionics taps gravity, AI in hunt for critical minerals

MELBOURNE – Singapore-based start-up Atomionics has had the first commercial deployment of its technology that uses gravity and artificial intelligence (AI) to define ore bodies, potentially cutting costs and speeding up minerals projects key to the energy transition.

Atomionics has signed contracts with three major mining companies that are expected to finish their deployments of the “virtual drill” technology called Gravio in early 2024, chief executive Sahil Tapiawala told Reuters. He declined to identify the firms for reasons of commercial confidentiality.

Privately-held Atomionics is backed by a number of investors, including Singapore government-backed deep-tech investor SGInnovate, OpenAI co-founder Pamela Vagata and climate tech executive Mikhail Zeldovich of Trafigura.

Like many exploration technologies, Atomionics taps the gravity signatures of different minerals to pinpoint where they lie beneath the earth.

It is able to do so more precisely than typical air-based survey techniques, and processes data in real time using AI, speeding up the work of defining ore bodies, Mr Tapiawala said.

Drilling a single hole in the search for a mineral can cost from A$10,000 (S$8,955) to A$50,000. A lithium miner might need as many as 400 holes to prove up a resource, so building a more accurate virtual picture before drilling can substantially cut costs.

“The key challenge is that sometimes (drill holes) don’t actually hit the reserve,” Mr Tapiawala said.

The company aims to cut these “empty” samples by at least half, he added.

The mining industry uses various techniques to find minerals, including ground-penetrating radar and aeromagnetic surveys, but no one method guarantees success.

KoBold Metals, a California-based start-up whose backers include billionaires Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, is also using AI to search for critical metals such as lithium.

Atomionics’ first deployment was in Australia’s Queensland state to help New Hope unit Bridgeport Energy find oil.

“The energy industry would traditionally defer to seismic data before undertaking any drilling project,” Bridgeport Energy exploration manager Cameron Fink said in a statement.

“With further development, Gravio can present as a low-cost alternative to traditional methods of exploration.” REUTERS

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