Analysing the Rocks
“ Our role is to develop new techniques for detecting non-target metals so that we can investigate cost-effective methods for removing them. ” Dr David Ottaway
The Need for Research
The concentration of these trace non-target metals, like lead-210 is very low and hence their concentration can currently only be determined using ‘destructive’ sampling methods, where the rock is first crushed into a powder. While these methods can accurately measure the type and amounts of trace non-target metals, the crushing process makes it impossible to determine where in the mineral system these non-target metals were originally located.
There are currently no existing methods for analysing rocks without breaking them up, which makes it difficult to accurately map non-target metals in the ore and provide real-time feedback to mining and processing operations.
New Analytical Techniques
Innovative analytical tools and instrumentation are needed to measure and map the distribution of trace non-target metals in IOCG-U ores, concentrates, solutions and suspensions. Hub scientists will develop techniques to detect and then map the distribution of trace non-target metals in IOCG-U ores, in both the solid and liquid phases.
A team led by Prof Nigel Spooner will use laser induced mass spectrometry and direct measurements like micro-imaging optical techniques to quantify trace non-target metals in the solid (mineral) phase and map their distribution. A team led by A/Prof Heike Ebendorff-Heidepriem aims to develop novel optical fibres that can specifically detect the products of uranium decay in the liquid (solution or fine suspension). These could be used for real-time sensing during mineral processing and help identify why trace non-target metals become ‘immobile’ during solid/liquid separation.
Why Analysing the Rocks Matters
A better understanding of the distribution and movement of trace non-target metals in solid and liquid phases will help researchers develop efficient, safe and reliable processes for removing these metals from the ore. Time, throughput and the economies of scale are vital to the value-added mineral export industry globally. Our research aims to develop analytical methods with a rapid turn-around that can support a constantly operating plant as well as online/in-plant instrumentation for continuous analysis.