The Fault with Cobalt: Overcoming the Challenges of Battery Metal Exploration

by Philippine Resources - June 28, 2022

Photo credit: Traders Industrial Supply Co., Inc.

Cobalt is an important element used to manufacture rechargeable batteries. Cobalt has unique properties that help improve thermal stability, which is critical for the batteries to function properly. It also helps improve some batteries’ energy density, so they can last longer. The demand for cobalt is high, so geologists need fast, accurate tools to help them meet these requirements. Portable X-ray fluorescence (pXRF) analyzers are one of these tools, as they provide on-the-spot material chemistry results.

Why Choose Portable XRF for Cobalt Exploration?

Portable XRF provides rapid, in situ, multielement geochemistry for immediate results in the field. This is useful for greenfield and brownfield exploration, ore grade and process control, environmental monitoring and remediation, and researching/teaching within the geological/environmental sciences.

For battery metal exploration, portable XRF provides decision-quality data faster than traditional, lab-based XRF, and also enables more discriminatory laboratory sampling, helping reduce costs and improve ROI. With sample preparation, pXRF produces high-quality quantitative data that is comparable to laboratory analysis.

Challenges with Analyzing Cobalt

XRF is prone to inter-element interferences. Iron (Fe) on cobalt (Co) and nickel (Ni) on cobalt (Co) are two common examples. This means that when a lot of iron is present, it becomes difficult for XRF to identify cobalt at low levels.

Likewise, the presence of nickel also makes it difficult for XRF to ID cobalt. Unfortunately, cobalt is routinely explored for in the presence of significant amounts of iron and nickel.

To solve this challenge, we developed a GeoChem method for Vanta™ pXRF analyzers that offers improved analysis for battery metals exploration by being able to detect cobalt in the presence of iron and nickel. This innovative method overcomes the interference that has historically made it very difficult for portable XRF analyzers to detect cobalt in the presence of these other elements.

The method we developed for the Vanta analyzer is built on the current GeoChem method, but with a more sophisticated way of deconvoluting the iron/cobalt/nickel peaks. Before deploying this solution, we tested it on client samples to make sure that it produced good results.

Test Results

We analyzed 16 samples with high iron content—9% < Fe < 50%, 50 ≤ Co ≤ 6000 ppm, Ni < 500 ppm. We also analyzed 50 samples with a moderate amount of iron—0.5% < Fe < 15%, 16 < Ni < 8000 ppm, 50 ppm < Co < 2.3%. The samples were pulps in XRF cups, and they were analyzed using 60 seconds per beam with no corrections.

The graphs below show excellent agreement between the results obtained from a lab and results obtained using a Vanta portable XRF analyzer, indicating that the modified GeoChem method can accurately detect the presence of cobalt when it’s in the presence of both large and moderate amounts of the interfering elements iron and nickel. Geologists now have another important tool that they can rely on when exploring for new sources of this vital element.


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Philippine Resources - August 31, 2021

Automated, Robotic Innovations for Analyzing Geological Samples with Portable XRF

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But if the nugget is missed, the gold can be underestimated. For gold exploration and mining, this variability can lead to inaccurate results and costly mistakes. The Nugget Effect Gold Assay (NEFFA) technique aims to turn the traditional challenge associated with the nugget effect into an opportunity. NEFFA attempts to measure the nugget effect through multiple nondestructive, systematic analyses of a geological material (typically crushed rock or crushed drill core) to identify the presence of gold or other precious metals based upon its distribution within the sample. NEFFA completely redefines and reduces the traditional sample preparation procedure and aims to provide semi-quantitative gold results using portable XRF analyzers to identify samples of potential interest for further laboratory analysis. Here’s how it works: Representative samples of 20–30 g, depending on the nature of material, are isolated in a medium such as a clear sample bag or under plastic film to ensure that there’s no contamination from an external agent The sample is distributed evenly over a 10 cm × 10 cm square with the depth of the material being no thicker than 2 mm A grid or matrix is placed over the sample, with individual matrices measuring 1 cm × 1 cm Measurements are performed within each square cm, and the average of all results is reported The technique is most effective on crushed rock or crushed drill core samples with a grain size 3 mm, but not on homogenized pulp samples Rotary air blast and reverse circulation (RC) samples can be analyzed directly This method takes the throughput advantages of GERDA for general exploration projects and adds additional value for gold exploration by providing gold estimates using XRF. We acknowledge this method may be considered non-traditional. 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Philippine Resources - December 07, 2021

Portable XRF for Gold (Au) and Au Pathfinders for Mineral Exploration and Ore Body Vectoring

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Philippine Resources - March 29, 2022

How to Automate Sampling and Analysis of Ores and Mine Materials

Photo: Vanta™ iX In-Line XRF Analyzer Accurate chemical analysis can provide vital data to enhance mining operations, such as improved extraction at mine sites and the optimized blending of mined material. However, sending samples to remote laboratories can cause delays ranging from hours to days. In addition, manually collected samples may not be representative of the bulk material. Automating this process and bringing the laboratory to the samples increases productivity. This can be done by adopting an automatic on-belt sampling solution. An Introduction to Automated On-Belt Sampling and Analysis Automatic on-belt sampling solutions provide instant chemical analysis of bulk mined material, such as coal, aluminum (Al), titanium (Ti), iron (Fe), manganese (Mn), nickel (Ni), and copper (Cu) ores. For instance, our on-belt sampling solution integrates the powerful Vanta™ in-line XRF analyzer to provide a fast, automated, and accurate analysis: Real-time chemical analysis of mining feed material on belt Excellent sensitivity to trace elements Quantification of up to 30 elements in one measurement Detection down to 1 ppm for key elements Analysis of light elements, including magnesium (Mg), aluminum (Al), silicon (Si), and sulfur (S) 3-Step Process for Automated On Belt Analysis To help you understand how automated on-belt analysis works, here is the process in three simple steps: Collect - Samples are collected from the belt automatically using a cross-belt sampler, without the need to stop or slow the belt. The system can be designed to meet relevant sampling and preparation standards, including ISO 12743, ISO 13909, ASTM E877, and ASTM D7430. Prepare - The collected samples are crushed to the required size. The moisture content is measured and recorded to remove measurement bias. The samples are pressed and ready for chemical  analysis using X-ray fluorescence (XRF). The entire preparation process is automatically controlled and monitor. Analyze - The prepared samples are analyzed using the Vanta iX in-line XRF analyzer. The data collection and analysis are fully automated. After analysis, the results can be seamless integrated into a plant workflow and data management system. This enables the right person to have the right data at the right time. Key Benefits of Automated On-Belt Analysis for Mining Operations Automated on-belt analysis has many benefits for mining operations, including: Fully automated and continuous to maintain high productivity Can be seamlessly integrated into existing plants No radioactive material used unlike alternative methods High-quality results from direct sample analysis compared to methods that perform through belt measurements Real-time laboratory-quality measurements Modular design for ease of maintenance

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