The identity, concentration, and composition of the elements present determine the commercial feasibility of a mine. Today, with mining operators seeking greater efficiency and productivity as the industry recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic, this insight is more crucial than ever.

This is where mineral analysis comes in, with fast and accurate laboratory techniques allowing operators to determine exactly how to get the most out of their mine.

In the mining industry, X-ray analysis is well-established as a technique to determine elemental composition and structure. On the one hand, XRF (X-ray fluorescence) analysis is used to identify how much of a given sample contains valuable mineral compounds. On the other, XRD (X-ray diffraction) can indicate crystalline structure, and phase composition of the elements present in the sample, which can be essential information when planning a mining operation.

Rui Wang, product manager, APAC, from laboratory solutions provider Thermo Fisher Scientific, describes the power of elemental analysis, and introduces the company’s Bulk Elemental Portfolio of tools, designed to empower miners to make the most of their resources.

Know your minerals

“In mining, you want to know whether the material is in the right concentration and the right composition,” says Wang. “Analysing elements and molecules is the very fundamental study of any material. For example, if you are looking for gold, you need to make sure it really is gold and not iron sulphide.

“If you want to find out what elements are in the sample, you use XRF,” Wang explains. When exposed to X-ray radiation, each element emits a unique fluorescent signal, which makes up its elemental fingerprint. This fingerprint is used to identify the element.

“Identifying the element is not always enough,” Wang explains. “In certain cases, elements are present in different energy states or phases, and you could need different chemicals or a different process to get them out. You need to know what the actual crystal phases are. Also using X-rays, XRD allows you to find out just that.”

In combination, this information informs operational decisions on the ground.

As well as this, XRF and XRD tools have environmental monitoring applications. For example, air quality can be controlled by using XRF to analyse the concentration of any toxic elements in dust samples.

Introducing the Bulk Elemental Portfolio

XRF and XRD analysis instruments comprise Thermo Fisher’s Bulk Elemental Portfolio. The portfolio also includes OES (optical emission spectroscopy) tools, which have applications further downstream. Thermo Fisher began developing X-ray analysis products in the 1950s, and their product has evolved with the market.

The portfolio includes stand-alone, benchtop, and portable XRF and XRD systems, designed to improve productivity without compromising accuracy, and are suitable for challenging environments.

To maximise efficiency, the equipment can also be integrated with an automation system in the lab, Wang explains. This means a sample can be loaded and run non-stop, which is hugely valuable for operators seeking the highest throughput.

Making the difference

Mining operations are demanding environments in which time is money, and productivity is key.  Thermo Fisher’s unmatched selection of products is based on tried and tested analytical technologies.

“Our Bulk Elemental X-ray tools are very stable,” Wang explains. “Some chemical methods require calibration daily. With this tool, you can keep it running for years.”

As well as this, the maintenance burden is reduced compared to other X-ray tools. For example, Thermo Fisher’s XRF product does not require a water chiller if it is running at 2.5 kW or lower. Instead, it contains a “closed loop” cooling system, minimising extra components.

Crucially for mining operators, these products run at very high throughput and speed. Samples require minimal preparation, and results are generated in just a few minutes. “Most mining companies are looking for high-throughput systems. When analysing a sample, they want a fast result so they can make operational decisions,” says Wang.

Furthermore, something that sets Thermo Fisher’s products apart is their gearless goniometer design. “A key component of WDXRF is that it needs to move to a particular position for a particular element,” Wang explains. “Most other vendors use gears to control the movement. Our gearless design allows it to move at a very high speed without wear and tear.

“Thermo Fisher also offers very good post-sales support. In our factory, we have a big team to provide turnkey solutions based on customer requirements; at field, we have experienced engineer to provide prompt services” Wang emphasises. “We are a partner of our customer, not just a supplier.”

This spirit of collaboration, along with Thermo Fisher’s powerful arsenal of analytical tools, has the power to unlock new productivity for operators in what is a results-focused, future-facing industry.