SOUTH Australian copper-gold company Minotaur Exploration has been awarded a government grant as it looks at turning clays found at its exploration sites into ceramic proppants.

Proppants are small, one to two millimetre diameter ceramic balls that hold the cracks of the earth’s rock layers open after hydraulic fracturing, which allows gas to flow to the wellhead.

The company had confirmed a globally-significant deposit of kaolin clay, also known as China clay, while drilling at its Carey’s Well deposit, between the townships of Poochera and Streaky Bay on the Western Eyre Peninsula.

Minotaur business development director Tony Belperio said this clay was also used in the manufacture of paint, paper and ceramics.

Many of these products were manufactured in China, he added, as were a variety of the proppants – used in the gas industry.

However, Dr Belperio said that few of these Chinese-manufactured proppants were ideally suited to Australian projects, especially those in the Cooper basin.

With the use of proppants expected to rise alongside an increase in Australian onshore gas activity, Minotaur was looking into the prospects of developing some of these technologies in Australia.

The company is working with researchers from the University of Adelaide and American company OPF Enterprises to analyse the properties of the kaolin and halloysite – a tubular form of kaolin – found on Minotaur sites.

The South Australian government has awarded Minotaur $36,000, which the company will match, to support this testwork, with science and information economy minister Gail Gago saying the voucher would help support the local and State economies.

“Work at the pilot plant is underway, with test work to be carried out over the next two months,” Dr Belperio said.

“The opportunity to create a local manufacturing base in ceramic proppant will significantly reduce or eliminate the requirement for imported material, saving businesses time and money on shipping and transport,” he said.

While Minotaur was not looking to develop a manufacturing facility itself, it was keen to talk with groups who might consider working with it to help create a new manufacturing industry in South Australia – with Port Augusta on the transport route to the Cooper basin considered to be a prime location.

“It is a difficult market to break into, and as it is the production market – it is not our forte,” Dr Belperio said.

“We are open to talking to members of the supply chain who want to invest to accelerate the process.”