X-ray diffraction: The next step in copper’s 9,500-year-old story

Can you guess how long humans have been mining copper? Sites in North America indicate that ancient peoples were using copper as long as 9,500 years ago! They used it to create tools, weapons, and jewelry. In our own times, this metal has come to be prized for another reason: its conductivity.

Copper: Why we can’t get enough

Around the world, economies and industries are striving for sustainability – and technology is evolving alongside them. In particular, there’s rapid innovation in the technologies that power renewable energy and electric transportation. New developments in these industries have a huge potential to change how we live, get around and do business.

One thing that those new technologies tend to have in common is that they use a lot of copper. This is because of its amazing conductive properties – it’s a highly efficient material. Less energy needed to produce electricity means less CO2 emitted, for example. As electric vehicles and renewable energy scale up around the world, the demand for this red metal is hitting record highs. The world has changed a lot in 9,500 years!

New challenges need new solutions

The mining industry is turning to lower-grade ore to meet demand, as high-grade ore is becoming harder to find. However, this comes with some complications: the lower the grade, the more difficult it is to recover the valuable metal and the more impurities it has. Producers need to get the most out of their ores, so they invest increasing amounts of energy and resources into the recovery process. Over time it’s becoming less sustainable – and less profitable too.

But what might seem like a problem is really an opportunity. Any efficiency improvements to this process will have a huge impact on sustainability and profitability. The answer? Better analysis!

X-ray diffraction analysis transforms production

After copper ore has been finely ground into powder, it’s often blended before being separated into valuable metal and gangue (waste) through the flotation process. Rapid, precise process control is key at this stage to avoid inefficiency and unnecessary costs.

Fortunately, there’s no need for guesswork. X-ray diffraction analysis (XRD) is ideally suited to characterizing the mineralogical composition of materials – it detects and quantifies the minerals present at even minor concentrations.

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A 2021 study by Pernechele et al. published in Minerals found that XRD analysis using our automatable Aeris instrument was fast and accurate at determining the mineralogy of copper ore blends, tailing (leftover material), and concentrates.

XRD reveals mineral composition, crystalline structure and texture, and can even directly predict process parameters. Armed with this rich, accurate data, manufacturers can optimize their resources and save energy – transforming the entire production chain. And with less waste and lower energy use, the environmental impact is reduced too!

Get started with Malvern Panalytical

Analysis is the key to bringing traditional materials into the sustainable future. Malvern Panalytical’s range of XRD instruments combines expert-level data with push-button ease of use and flexibility. With specialized editions for the industries that benefit most, we offer a solution for every need – and automation options ensure your processes are as efficient as possible. So, get in touch and find out how we can help optimize your set-up today! You can also take a look at all our base metal mining solutions here.


Written by: Uwe König,, Posted by: Malvern Panalyitcal (www.materils-talks.com)


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