While most industrial methods have changed drastically over the years due to new technologies emerging, there are a few that have stood the test of time and haven’t changed for centuries. The method of finding out how much gold is contained in an ore sample is one of these. There was no safe method in mining to evaluate gold quantity in ore unless the sample was destroyed by fire.
Fire assaying is the process of mixing the ore with lead and other special chemicals and then heated at extremely high temperatures. The fusion processes then separate the metals from the impurities so that the quality of the ore can be determined. This is an elaborate and time-consuming process, and for long has been the only method.
That’s all about to change with a new method called Photon Assay Technology which is about to revolutionise the way that ore is tested. It was developed over 15 years by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), which was renamed to Chrysos in 2016.
The process is very simple. The sample is put into a jar, placed on a conveyor belt, and transported into an analysis machine. Here the jar is blasted with X-rays that stimulate the gold atoms in the ore. Because the gold atoms give off a unique signature, the machine can detect the concentrations of the gold atoms in the sample. It’s the equivalent of a normal human X-ray, but for gold.
There are many reasons why this method is far superior to the centuries-old method that has been used until now. For one, the analysis time is drastically reduced from around 48 hours to only ten minutes. This means that the operations can analyse samples as they work in real time. It’s also much simpler than the old method which required special furnaces and equipment and involved the destruction of the ore samples. Obviously, it’s also more environmentally friendly because it involves fewer resources and toxic agents and creates no waste. These benefits are all meaningless if the test themselves aren’t more accurate, and this is where Photon assay really shines. Not only is it two to three times more accurate when testing the samples, but it also costs the same price if not cheaper. The samples can even be re-tested if the need arises.
The first of these machines is being used in Australia, which is the world’s second gold producer. In a country where over half a billion is spent on gold exploration, a machine such as this that can analyse up to 70 samples per hour, and 650 000 per year, will help to drastically reduce costs.
Chrysos has big plans for the future. Eventually, they will be targeting other countries to market their machines and are working on applying their technology to other metals besides gold. They are hoping that within the next few months they will be able to detect silver by-products in gold samples, with copper by-products being detected by the end of the year.
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