Rio Tinto shares (ASX: RIO) have climbed 3.63% today, to add to an excellent recent trend, having added 12.83% in the last month. In the mining giant’s relentless quest to uncover new resources, the company is taking a bold step by integrating space-age technology into its earthbound operations. After a hiatus in major mineral discoveries since the Winu copper-gold deposit in Western Australia in late 2017, the company is igniting hope with the introduction of laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS), a technology first utilised by NASA’s Curiosity Rover on the seemingly barren surface of Mars.

This innovative approach to mineral exploration could potentially escalate the rate at which new copper and lithium mines are discovered and assessed. The LIBS technology, hailed as “game-changing” by Rio Tinto’s top executives, offers a futuristic leap in how geologists probe beneath the Earth’s crust. According to Nigel Stewart, Rio Tinto’s chief scientist, and Dave Andrews, head of exploration, the deployment of LIBS could pave the way to a more efficient and effective future in the exploration sector.

The LIBS system’s principle is straightforward yet ground-breaking in the mining context. By zeroing in laser pulses at rocks, the technology is able to instantly vaporise a small part, producing a plasma that can be analysed to reveal the mineralogy and chemistry of the samples within an astonishing 60 minutes. This swift analysis shaves off the otherwise lengthy delay characteristic of traditional core sample collection and laboratory testing, allowing for real-time decision-making in the field.

Rio Tinto’s strategic shift comes at a time when the industry is yearning for new deposits, particularly of metals essential to the burgeoning clean energy sector, like copper and lithium. In a confident move reflecting this urgency, the company has committed a substantial $US250 million this year exclusively to discovery ventures. Over half of this budget has been allocated towards copper exploration, demonstrating the metal’s pivotal role in the emerging green economy.

Furthermore, the mining frontrunner has a pipeline exceeding 100 projects, with an assorted focus that spans copper, lithium, heavy mineral sands, and nickel. The quest for lithium, in particular, has intensified within Western Australia, as Rio Tinto fosters partnerships with junior companies like Charger Metals (ASX: CHR) and secures exploration tenements that span an extensive 145,000 hectares within the state.


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As Rio Tinto turns to the stars for inspiration, the Earth’s concealed wealth couldn’t be closer to discovery. With LIBS technology, the company appears poised to usher in the next generation of mining, unearthing the minerals that will power the future—all while borrowing a page from the playbook of interplanetary exploration. The promise of rapid, on-site material analysis may revolutionize resource extraction, drawing a silver line on the horizon for an industry eager to embrace innovation.


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