National Geological surveys | Interview with Machado Leite - Member of LNEG Board of Directors - Director of Geological Survey of Portugal

This interview was published on EuroGeoSurveys NEWS • Issue 12 • October 2013


Photo: Prof. Machado Leite

Raw Materials Initiative is an important EU document regarding Mineral Resources in Europe. What consequences and effects have induced in the attitude of mineral sector players in Portugal?

Portuguese Geology is favorable to the occurrence of a significant variety of mineral resources. We have indeed several outcropping igneous rock masses of different ages and some important sedimentary and metassedimentary sequences that control the geographical distribution of interesting metallic ore bodies. Remarkable are the cases of Panasqueira mine in the Portuguese tin/tungsten metallogenetic province and Neves-Corvo copper/zinc mine in the Portuguese part of the Iberian Pyrite Belt (IPB), both world class deposits that have remained working even during the long negative cycle of low metal prices before 2008. After the rising of metal prices, Portugal was able to attract prospecting enterprises for exploration of gold/silver, tin/tungsten, base metals, lithium and iron ores. LNEG plays an important role in that matter as data provider and also as a scientific and technological partner. Reflecting on the momentum created by the EC documents, “Raw-Materials Initiative” and “Critical Raw Materials for EU”, the Portuguese Government realized that Mineral Raw Materials could play an interesting role for the recovery of the economy, and decided to improve some policy measures for the sector launching a “National Strategy for Geological Resources – Mineral Resources”. This important document is supported in a review of the Portuguese Potential for Mineral Raw Materials made by LNEG. Several on-line databases, geological mapping and other important data and information about mineral occurrences in Portugal are now available in the LNEG GeoPortal ( LNEG assuming its position as a research institution in the valuable chain of raw materials, also provides knowledge and services to industry, both for ore body resources appraisal (geology mapping,geochemistry and geophysics) and in the technological stages of the pre-competitive level of project development (ore petrology, raw materials characterization, bench and pilot test for mineral processing and environmental control). Nowadays some prospecting projects have entered in an experimental exploitation phase, namely for gold and tungsten and it is expected that 3 or 4 projects will achieve maturity for commissioning in a very near future.

How Portuguese Geosurvey is facing the present opportunities and challenges of Geosciences?

During the last 4 years LNEG has been driving its Plan of Activity having in mind the Geology as key issue for defining the competitiveness of the territory. In this vision, the activity of the Geosurvey is oriented both to the territory itself, contributing to the establishment of public policies, definition of priorities for land planning, giving advice for the environmental impact assessment of any project of land use and to the economy, providing scientific and technological data and knowledge about geology, hydrogeology, coastal geology, geological hazards, traditional and non-traditional mineral resources, such as geothermal and shale gas.

Following these ideas and in what concerns the public service, LNEG participation in the preparation of the National Plan for Risks Prevention should be pointed out, namely in what concerns the publications of the Map of Natural Radioactivity in Portugal. This important map referring the whole country is supported by almost one million raw data field determinations, which enlarges the range of use of such mapping from broad to smaller scales. Considering the Portuguese Economy factor, the increasing importance of minerals, as said before, has attracted foreign investment for mining exploration and prospecting, which enterprises frequently sign partnership protocols with LNEG, looking for better conditions to develop their jobs. Emergent matters such as geothermal (low and high temperature) and hydrocarbon source rock exploration, conventional and unconventional (shale gas) are also present challenges. The Western and Southern borders of Portugal are Meso-Cenozoic continental platforms underexplored in terms of its petroleum geology and though have been explored since the 70’s, any finding of economic importance has been recognized until now. LNEG having in its mission the research on renewable energy, is a member of EERA – European Energy Research Alliance and was very active in the launching of the EERA SG-Joint Program, thinking that research in this field should be encouraged.

Which are the most significant LNEG flagship projects under development?

The Iberian Pyrite Belt, stretching from Grândola in Portugal to Seville in Spain is one of the most outstanding ore provinces in Europe, hosting some of the largest concentrations of massive sulphides and 22% of the world-class (>32 Mt) VHMS orebodies. The Iberian Pyrite Belt hosts more than 90 massive sulfide deposits. The dimensions of the deposits vary from 1 to >300 Mt [e.g., Neves Corvo (Cu-Zn), Aljustrel (Cu) and Rio Tinto] including 14 world-class volcanogenic hosted massive sulfide (VHMS) orebodies. Ten deposits are located in Portugal where currently only Neves Corvo and Aljustrel are being exploited. The work undertaken by LNEG in the recently finished PROMINE project on this polymetallic belt, is very promising because important new 2D+ deep geophysical data are fine tuning the identification of deep potential structures for hosting mineralization, which coupled with micro palynological studies envisaging specific stratigraphic horizons that are known massive sulphide carriers, greatly enhance the probability for new deep discoveries. In the subject of EGS – Enhanced Geothermal Systems, Madeira Island, as an active volcano without any activity for the last 6.000 years, is an important target for geothermal energy that LNEG is researching in a partnership with the local electric company. This is an intermediate and innovative case study between classical volcanic geothermal systems and EGS. We are now ending the first phase of the survey where geological, geophysical, hydrogeological and geochemical data are being processed to evaluate the existence of exploitable geothermal reservoir(s). Depending on a positive result, a second phase of confirmation and detailed characterization of the promising geothermal area may be set up. We hope that this will raise the readiness level of the project to access of funding for industrial development. Another very significant project for LNEG is the consortium with IGME-Spanish Geological Survey and a Spanish enterprise (IMPULSO), established to answer to a public tender settled by Angola Government to produce the geological and mineral resources mapping. The expectation is now very high, because almost one third of the land was attributed to the consortium to develop the project, the Southeast and part of the South of the country regions, moreover, it is expected that the contract will be signed soon. This project is very significant, because it consolidates the involvement of Portugal in the international cooperation with the Portuguese Speaking Countries since the last 30 years, being also a challenging opportunity to make a good application of the regional geology knowledge that several LNEG geologists have been studying for years in Angola.

LNEG – Geological Survey of Portugal in brief

The National Laboratory of Energy and Geology (LNEG) is a research institute in the Ministry of Environment, Territory Planning and Energy focused on answering the needs of the society.

Its willing is to meet the international best practices and to ensure that its areas of expertise contribute to increase competitiveness of the economic agents that make use of the territory in a context of sustainability.

The internal organics includes the Laboratory of Energy (LEN) in the branch of energy and the Laboratory of Geology and Mining (LGM) that is the National Geological Survey.

Mission of LNEG as National Geological Survey:

  • Development of the geological knowledge, following the best standards and conceptual models
  • Acting as data provider, feeding and maintaining geologic data sets and mineral resources databases
  • Producing the official geological mapping at several scales
  • Updating the mineral resources potential and supporting the process of mining rights attribution
  • Acting as an agency of knowledge, using its own GeoPortal for spreading geoinformation tailored to meet end users’ needs
  • Giving scientific and technological advice to Public Policies for the sector
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