How did you get to work today? Whether it was in an electric car or on a train powered by renewable electricity, the energy transition is already happening all around us. But reshaping the infrastructure of our homes, workplaces, and industries to become more sustainable will take a lot of work – and a lot of metal.
Powering the energy transition…
It’s projected that up to three billion tons of metal will be needed to support the net-zero targets adopted by many countries and industries. Good news for metals prices – but also a dilemma, as the industry takes on sustainability challenges of its own and seeks to reduce its environmental impact.
Accounting for around 3.5-4% of the world’s energy use, the mining industry is a significant player in worldwide consumption. Many mining processes are inherently energy-intensive, and more sustainable alternatives are not yet available. With many companies having made sustainability commitments ahead of 2030, time is short.
…while decreasing our energy consumption
Accurate elemental analysis provides a flexible, immediate solution to this challenge. Better elemental analysis can be applied from the stockpile to the blast furnace to unlock significant process efficiencies. As the demand for metals continues to spike – those three billion tons will be needed soon! – inefficiencies that might have gone unnoticed before will make themselves felt, but the ability to sort ores easily and in real time can transform the entire metals value chain.
Sorting ores allows the direct detection of any variations or anomalies in ore composition, which makes stockpile management much more efficient. Controlling washing and preventing the processing of waste material saves significant time and energy, and ensures higher consistent quality.
Having ores sorted from the beginning of the process also makes later stages run more smoothly, compounding the benefits downstream. A more consistent output means that fewer additives or corrections will be needed, and eventually can enable more efficient running of the blast furnace – the most visible point of energy consumption.
What do we mean by ‘better’ analysis?
The most immediate way to make analysis more efficient is to get results in real time. Cross-belt analyzers eliminate the need for sampling, saving both time and costs. Analyzing all the material on the belt – from large rocks to fines – means that results will always be representative, and any adjustments needed can be made instantly rather than after testing is carried out elsewhere. The CNA cross-belt analyzers from Malvern Panalytical are designed to accommodate a wide range of belt sizes, making them suitable for many different applications.
At the smaller scale, the CNA instruments make use of pulsed fast thermal neutron activation (PFTNA) technology, using a pulsed flow of neutrons to interact with the nuclei of the atoms in the passing material. The atoms emit gamma rays, and the instrument measures the characteristic energy levels of these rays to identify and quantify the elemental composition of the material.
Highly accurate, this method is also very safe for operators. The neutron-emitting module can be switched off during downtime or for maintenance, minimizing their exposure to radiation, and saving precious time on administration and compliance procedures to comply with safety regulations. There’s also no hazardous waste, making PFTNA significantly more sustainable in the long term.
Can this be applied across the industry?
PFTNA technology can be applied across a wide range of mining and metals applications, including in the processing of iron ore, bauxite, coal, copper, nickel, and limestone. The CNA analyzers from Malvern Panalytical come in a variety of industry-specific formats, with designs tailored to the specific ore to ensure the greatest efficiency gains possible. They’re flexible in calibration and particle size, depending on the application, and their robust design keeps the cost of ownership and maintenance low.
So, the dilemma of supporting the energy transition while lowering energy use doesn’t have to be a dilemma at all – it can be an opportunity! Thanks to technological innovations like PFTNA, mining and metals can find a way forward that swaps challenges for benefits.
Written by: Uwe Konig, Posted by: Malvern Panalytical (www.materils-talks.com)