From Mars to Earth: How Martian technology can assist in mining and exploration activities
By Jyoti Grewal, Technical Consultant – Northern ANI
Is there life on Mars? This is a question that fascinates scientists and geologists all over the world. There are many similarities between Mars and Earth and by studying the surface morphology, chemical makeup, lithology, and geology of Mars, we may begin to understand how our two planets turned out so differently. The evidence of life or prebiotic chemistry can be analyzed by identifying rock types and their chemistry. Scientists have relied on robots and the rovers to go to Mars in order to gather meaningful data. The rovers carried a number of scientific instruments to analyze rocks including X-ray fluorescence (XRF) and X-ray diffraction (XRD) analyzers which measures elemental composition and mineralogy, respectively. To be able to go to Mars, these analyzers had to be portable and accurate. The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Rover chose InXitu’s portable rock and mineral analyzer to study the geology and environment of selected areas. The commercial version of the CheMin is the Olympus Terra XRD. These modern-day instruments can also help with mining, exploration and environmental activities back on Earth and with a much smaller budget.
Initially conceived to perform chemical and mineralogical testing for NASA’s MSL mission, Olympus’s Terra™ is the first truly portable XRD system designed specifically for rock and mineral analysis. It is a rugged, fully portable field instrument that harnesses advanced dual-XRD/XRF technology and renders it for earthbound applications. The conventional XRF/XRD analyzers were too large and by combining both Olympus and NASA’s innovation, the Terra brings to life a new way of performing XRD and XRF measurements. The unit’s patented sample-handling system minimizes sample preparation time and achieves accuracy in peak identification, previously only available using laboratory-based systems. XRD data from the Terra can be readily analyzed using the software of a laboratory XRD instrument, or third-party applications. Utilizing software embedded in the unit itself, the user accesses the operating system through a wireless connection, allowing for a wide degree of flexibility in controlling the instrument and subsequent data handling. Available phase identification pattern-matching software provides a complete analysis using either publicly available diffraction pattern databases or common commercially available databases. Due to its unique powder-handling system, non-mechanical goniometers, and lack of complicated moving parts, the Terra is extremely well-suited for those applications where field portability and/or ease-of-use are an issue.
Along with quantitative mineralogy, another essential data set that is highly beneficial to the mining industry is multi-element compositional data. The Olympus Delta Handheld XRF Analyzer provides fast, non-destructive elemental analysis. It can be used in the field for immediate results which determines the next course of action. The Delta brings the power and flexibility of handheld XRF spectrometry to the field. Ruggedized and ultraportable, this fast technology provides accelerated testing times, allowing for hundreds more tests to be conducted per day with analytical confidence. The Olympus handheld XRFs are being used worldwide in mining and exploration projects.
“We have been using our DELTA portable XRFs to rapidly collect multi-element data from drill core, RC chips and soils in the field and laboratory. These tools are being used in research and development projects to assess 3D spatial variations of geochemistry in large mineral systems (Au, U, Cu) that will effectively aid exploration targeting and better define locations for detailed sampling and further analysis. This technology has matured to the point that it can be effectively implemented in research projects as a front-line tool,” says Dr. James Cleverley, senior geochemist at CSIRO Minerals Down Under Research Flagship who has used Olympus’s portable XRF analyzers to obtain quick and reliable results. The Delta’s real overall value is to get large and inexpensive data sets and make decisions in real-time with minimal reliance on off-site laboratory testing. In reference to the value portable XRF can bring to mineral exploration projects, a XRF user in Africa remarked, “If you are exploring for base metals and not using portable XRF, you are not doing the right thing by your shareholders.”
With Olympus’s expertise in XRF, they were able to combine both XRF and XRD to introduce the BTX Profiler. The BTX Profiler carries on the revolutionary XRD technology employed in NASA’s “Curiosity” Rover. It combines with the highly acclaimed, award winning Earth-bound technology employed in Olympus’s analytical XRD and XRF instruments. Building on NASA and Olympus patents, the BTX Profiler is a leap forward in the technology of combined XRD and XRF analysis. The BTX Profiler provides comprehensive compositional materials analysis at both the structural and elemental level. This multi-sample analyzer, which is able to analyze 20 samples simultaneously, is the only instrument on the market that will give you both qualitative and quantitative XRF and XRD data. The BTX Profiler, with its combined XRD and XRF technologies, affords economies of operational costs, space, and time with a seamless integration of data and results.
Another popular field device is ASD’s TerraSpec mineral analyzer. The TerraSpec uses near infrared (NIR) spectroscopy for rapid, non-destructive identification of minerals. Used on outcrop, drill core, RC chips or powders, the TerraSpec assists the field geologist in identifying alteration mineralogy for faster, on-site delineation of mineral deposits. The Terra Spec will allow you to identify subtle changes in mineral chemistry (white micas, chlorites), providing enhanced vectoring capabilities such as mentioned by Barrick in 2007. In producing mines, the TerraSpec assists mine geologists in quantifying percentages of problem minerals like clays and talc that can affect the leaching or floatation process and alter ore recovery. You can easily convert measured data into actionable information to help optimize processes or improve research.
Some of these technologies that were invented for Mars have resulted in many applications on Earth. These compact and portable analyzers are being used in applications such as oil and gas, mining and exploration, among other uses. XRF, XRD and NIR are all technologies that are beneficial to the mining industry. These technologies not only save time and money but also give real-time quantitative and qualitative data with minimal sample preparation. The large inexpensive datasets gathered during an on-site analysis make possible a large potential reduction in dollars spent on lab tests while providing immediate information for on-site decision-making in advance of the lab. This is a key component in shortening the exploration timeline and condensing field seasons, making the most of budgets and tight exploration schedules.
“We were able to save $900,000,” says Darren Holden, managing director of ABM Resources. ABM Resources used two portable XRFs during their two-year gold-copper project in Australia. In 2011, they collected 40,000 samples and tested them all with their Olympus XRF analyzers. This allowed them to prescreen the samples and therefore, they only needed to send 10,000 samples to the lab to analyze with ICP-MS. By eliminating nonviable targets, drilling and prospecting can be focused on the most favourable areas, resulting in more rapid prioritization and substantial cost-savings.
Northern ANI paired up with only the best technology companies to bring innovative, intuitive, field durable, high performance analytical instruments to identify any element, any compound and any material whether it is in the lab, in the field or on Mars. Juniors and Majors alike are experiencing the significant benefits of XRF, XRD and NIR. For more information and to learn how XRF, XRD and NIR are being utilized and can apply to your projects, please visit www.northernani.com. Northern ANI is an authorized distributor for ASD and Olympus, worldwide leaders in scientific equipment. Northern ANI brings a superior suite of analyzers to market that provides qualitative and quantitative material characterization for detection, identification, quality control, process control, regulatory compliance, research and development for numerous applications including metallurgy and geochemistry. Northern ANI also provides comprehensive training, application development, SOP and method creation, QA/QC controls and advanced geochemical consulting. This allows Northern ANI to provide not only the best analytical tools, but project and application specific knowledge which brings a total economic solution to the mining, exploration and environmental market. No other organization pairs top technology with top industry expertise in a total package.