The Scope

We aim at building and testing a portable instrument combining X-ray diffraction and fluorescence.

Diffraction provides the mineralogy and fluorescence the elemental composition. The combination, measurement and software wise, will fully exploit the synergies of the techniques.

No instrument is on the market at the moment that can provide in a short time a complete analysis of raw materials suitable for exploration, mining and/or quality controls.


Brief Project Description

Mining is a risky business. In order to minimize the risks it is important to have the best in depth and well defined understanding of the geological area when developing prospective sites. The science of prospecting for deposits large enough for commercial viability involves extensive field work prior to any extraction operation. Mining exploration includes material sampling and analysis which is costly and time consuming when performed with traditional laboratory based methods. Among all techniques used presently and in the past, the more powerful, accurate and complete to obtain geochemical data are the XRD and XRF. These two analytical techniques are complementary as one, the XRD, permits to identify and quantify the mineralogical phases (e.g. Kaolinite, Calcite, Talc….) but not the chemical composition, where the other, the XRF, can identify the chemical elements (e.g. Ca, Si, Fe…) but not in which form (phase) is present. The chemical element identification is a pre-requisite to identify the phases by XRD and quantify them, and on the other side, the accurate knowledge of the phase quantities permits to quantify correctly the elemental composition by XRF, otherwise remain only a qualitative analysis. Both techniques are based on collimating an X-Ray beam on the sample to analyse and measuring the photons emitted or scattered by the sample. We can also optimize the hardware part of the instrumentation by using one single X-Ray source and one detector able to measure both the number of photon as well their energy to accomplish both measurements at once on the same area.
By building a new extremely compact instrument combining both techniques at the measurement and analysis level we can obtain a more efficient instrument in term of costs and operations and also improves the accuracy and reliability of the geo-mineralogy results. The instrument needs to be easily deployable, flexible to different kind of materials to analyse (powders, rocks, tailings etc.), robust (ruggedized), easy to operate and maintain and give out results directly in term of identified phases, relative amounts, chemical elements and their amount.
A small, portable, instrument to perform accurate quantitative chemical and phase analyses can lead to several advantages in the raw materials sector outside the exploration and mining field:
• Raw materials quality controls:
• higher materials and energy saving
• higher quality of final products
• Recycling of materials
• Air pollution controls

Main Theme
1. Exploration and raw materials resources assessment

Additional Themes
2. Mining in challenging environments
3. Increased resource efficiency in mineral and metallurgical processes
4. Recycling and material chain optimization for End-of-Life products
5. Substitution of critical and toxic materials in products and for optimized performance

Project objective and strategic importance

The goal of the project is to build and test in mining environment a portable instrument that can be carried and used by non-experts personnel, to obtain quantitative analyses on both mineralogy and chemical composition directly on site in a timeframe of minutes. The instrument capabilities will be:
• Full mineralogical (crystallographic phase fractions) and chemical (elemental composition) analysis through combined XRD and XRF.
• Reasonably short time of measurement (expected 10-15 minutes per sample) and analysis (inside 1-2 minutes after measurement).  Portability of the instrument, operating on powder (drilled powder) or rocks (detached piece or planar surface). Powered on batteries.
• Full automatic analysis, no operator needed. Upload results on the cloud, uses cloud tools and databases.
• Mapping mode by assigning measured points locally on pictures and on larger scale using GPS.
• Reduced maintenance costs: no laboratory, no specific expert needed, compactness for easy repairing by shipping back the entire instrument in case of servicing (no need by the instrument producer to send technician on site) and on-line operations for instrument check/monitoring.

In the raw materials field and especially in the exploration and mining environment the mineralogical/elemental characterization is a big issue, often neglected as no satisfactory solutions do exist. The mineralogical content is only analysed in specialised laboratories, like the ones owned by national geological Institutions, like BRGM in France, big Companies like ERAMET or Universities. Indeed, mineralogical analyses require proper instrumentation (XRD, Raman and microscopies) and experts. Therefore, large investments for laboratory and personnel are absolutely necessary, even in view of the large management and maintenance. Additional costs are to be considered in connection to transportation and time delays (from sample collection to final results the typical timeframe is months).