AACHEN, Germany – As demand for minerals and other natural
resources increases, so does the need for optimizing mining techniques. Fraunhofer
Institute for Laser Technology has developed a laser analysis system that can identify
potential mineral reserves.
As part of the InnoNet project OFUR (Online Analysis for Minerals
Extraction), funded by the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology,
the Fraunhofer researchers, in collaboration with the Institute for Mining and Metallurgy
Machinery at RWTH Aachen University and seven partners from industry, have developed
a demonstrator with an inline analysis module for use in mining.
The demonstrator directly analyzes rock in real time as it is
being drilled. Using a conventional rig fitted with the analysis module, a 10-cm-diameter
hole is drilled up to 24 m deep. The system can measure the chemical composition
of the rock during drilling to make the evaluated data available immediately.
Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology’s
laser analyzer in use on a drilling rig. Courtesy of the Institute for Mining and
Metallurgy Machinery at RWTH Aachen.
Using laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy, scientists can analyze
various elements within a rock by passing a laser pulse through the particles. This
can provide information about the overall composition of the rock, while the chronology
of the data sequence will show how the deposit is layered.
Because the data can be evaluated and presented in a matter of
seconds, mine operators can determine the quality of a deposit immediately and adjust
the mining process accordingly. The method has been used to detect magnesium, calcium,
silicon, iron and aluminum. The researchers hope soon to be able to detect copper
and other metals using a different spectrometer.
In the long term, this real-time procedure for multielement
analysis could make it possible to automate extraction machinery. Work has already
begun on a follow-up project that aims to make the analysis system fit for industrial