Elemental Analysis : The Cure-All Solution to More Efficient Base Metal Mining

Highlights
  • Using elemental analysis, operators can better match their use of resources, including water, energy and chemicals, which aligns them more effectively with the ores they are processing.
  • The Epsilon Xflow, with its real-time, continuous elemental analysis capabilities, stands out as a crucial solution to the inefficiencies plaguing conventional methods.

Global Mining Segment Manager at Malvern Panalytical, Dr Uwe König, Ph.D, discusses how the mining industry can reach net zero.

THE CURE-ALL SOLUTION TO MORE EFFICIENT BASE METAL MINING

Doctor Copper is a widely used concept in economics. Because copper is crucial for many industries, it poses that its price indicates overall economic health.  

Our world is built on base metals such as copper, zinc, nickel, and lead. Although they may not have the same glamour as precious metals like gold, silver and platinum, these base metals are the foundation of our global economy. They are utilised in various industries, including telecommunications, transport and construction. Given their fundamental role in our daily lives and the health of our markets, we must mine these metals in the most efficient manner possible in terms of time, cost and energy. 

THE GROWING NEED FOR CLEANER, GREENER MINING

The environmental impact of mining has gained significant global attention in recent years. Consumers are now preferring products made with sustainable materials, and producers are adapting accordingly. As the energy transition ramps up, there’s also an increasing demand for more, greener metal. In fact, to open a new mine today, environmental impact is already a non-negotiable consideration. As a result, mining companies are striving to improve their operational efficiencies. 

A key focus of these efforts is elemental analysis. This process is often a critical parameter in product quality and safety. For example, the correct elemental composition of raw material fed to a cement kiln is critical for smooth operation and maximum efficiency. Equally important are potentially harmful elements, such as sulphur, sodium, potassium and mercury, which must be carefully monitored as these can interfere with the process or damage the environment. The technique best suited to accomplish elemental analysis depends on the material, location, and industry-specific criteria.  

Operators can better match their use of resources, including water, energy and chemicals, through elemental analysis, which aligns them more effectively with the ores they are processing. 

In many of the stages of mining processing, such as electrowinning, conventional elemental analysis is time-consuming, inefficient and expensive. This is primarily attributed to the continued reliance on liquid analysis with titration at most sites. The infrequent measurement, conducted every four hours, generates a limited number of data points dependent on the user, resulting in inefficient process control. Furthermore, the lack of regular monitoring contributes to the instability of the electrolysis bath, leading to substantial losses in time, energy and money. 

MEETING THE DEMAND FOR MORE EFFICIENT ELEMENTAL ANALYSIS

Luckily, there is a solution to this problem. Energy-dispersive X-ray fluorescence  (EDXRF) technology can provide insights into hydrometallurgy, leaching, electroplating and wastewater processes.  

X-ray fluorescence users’ technology can be used for non-destructive elemental analysis. This enables users to measure their process streams without chemical or physical changes or sampling loss.  

Online analysers, such as the Epsilon Xflow, can be used for more efficient elemental analysis. Being online, they can provide continuous elemental analysis in liquid processes in real-time. This capability allows for the optimisation of many process parameters and product properties. By facilitating immediate modifications to process conditions, it guarantees efficient production and optimum product quality. 

Another benefit of the Epsilon Xflow is that it can cope with the challenging process conditions involved with the extraction of copper, nickel or uranium. When extracting these valuable metals from ore, it is necessary to use aggressive liquids, which are often highly acidic. Not only can the Epsilon Xflow handle these difficult conditions, but it can maintain the necessary accuracy and stability whilst doing so over extended periods of operation. The multi-elemental capability of the analyser enables quick responses when impurities are detected. The online analyser offers immediate and accurate feedback on the leeching process, reducing processing costs per ton of material by saving costly reagents.  

Using up-to-date flowcell technology, Epsilon XFlow can also deliver highly repeatable short- and long-term results. This ensures that accuracy levels remain high, even during rapid, simultaneous multi-element analysis.  

MOVING FORWARD

In conclusion, the significance of base metals in our global economy cannot be overstated, as they form the foundation of essential industries. As the world shifts towards cleaner and greener practices, the mining sector faces a crucial challenge to meet the growing demand for sustainable metal production. Elemental analysis emerges as a key focus for mining companies seeking operational efficiencies, with technologies like EDXRF leading the way. The Epsilon Xflow, with its real-time, continuous elemental analysis capabilities, stands out as a solution to the inefficiencies plaguing conventional methods. By embracing cutting-edge technologies, the mining industry can pave the way for a cleaner, more sustainable future while optimising operational costs.

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Dr. Uwe König, Ph.D., is responsible for business development in the mining and metals industry. He is looking into existing and future analytical solutions that bring value to the mining and metals industry. With over 17 years of experience working with rocks, ores and minerals, he also focuses on new real-time, digital and automated solutions.