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The challenge

Finding out which ores are worth mining and processing

Ores contain a variety of minerals but often only some of these may be of value or economic to process.

QEMSCAN is the world's leading technology for rapid mienral analysis ©  (C) 2012 Damien Smith Photography

Knowing which minerals are present in an ore allows the operator to determine the:

  • economic viability of mining the ore
  • most efficient method of processing the ore.

Traditionally, identifying minerals has been the work of a technician looking at samples of ore through an optical microscope but these methods are time-consuming and prone to inaccuracy.

Our response

Scanning electron microscope for rapid analysis

We developed QEM*SEM™ – the technology that underpins QEMSCAN – to automatically and rapidly analyse the mineralogy of metallurgical products, size-by-size and particle-by-particle.

QEMSCAN is comprised of a scanning electron microscope and four X-ray detectors. ©  CSIRO, Damien Smith Photography

QEMSCAN employs a scanning electron microscope, four X-ray detectors and a software package to enables rapid discrimination of minerals, without reliance on visual judgments. It can make 12 000 mineral analyses per minute and be used to assess the value of exploration discoveries and to streamline metallurgical processes.

The detailed analysis establishes:

  • the percentage of each mineral in the sample
  • if each mineral is in an easily accessible form
  • how much mineral is recoverable economically.    

By revealing the content and distribution of minerals in ore samples, it is possible to target the highest mineral concentrations directly and with much greater accuracy than ever before.

The results

An invaluable tool for mining, processing and other applications

QEMSCAN was commercialised by CSIRO’s spin-off company, Intellection Pty Ltd. and taken over by the FEI Company since 2009.

QEMSCAN has been widely used by companies such as: Anglo Platinum, BHP Billiton, CVRD (Companhia Vale do Rio Doce), Falconbridge Noranda, Phelps Dodge and Rio Tinto.

Data from QEMSCAN assists operators to manage the whole process from exploration, planning the mine, scheduling production, designing processes to improve ore yields – right down to managing waste stockpiles.

QEMSCAN is used by CSIRO as a research tool and by a wide range of organisations in fields such as:

  • forensics
  • environmental geology
  • coal and petroleum mineralogy
  • geopolymer development
  • meteorite investigations
  • archaeological research.

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