The Hilton Hotel Brisbane, Australia was the venue for the inaugural Minerals Engineering International (MEI) specialty meeting on mineralogy, Automated Mineralogy 06. In recent years there have been enormous advances in the automation of key mineral identification and quantification technologies. Automated Mineralogy 06 was intended to be the start of a series of regular annual meetings bringing together professionals concerned with the analysis and interpretation of mineralogical data using automated techniques, as well those involved with the development of hardware and software solutions to aid automated mineralogical analysis. The meeting therefore attracted a wide spectrum of attendees including mineralogists, geologists, microscopists, process and mining engineers, analysts, business managers, and consultants.
A total of 90 delegates representing nine countries attended the two-day conference at which 27 technical presentations plus exhibits from a number of key institutions and equipment suppliers, kept delegates busy, and informed.
The depth and breadth of technologies showcased were evident from the wide variety of topics discussed, which included sessions on:
- reviews of existing automated techniques
- electron-beam technologies
- new technologies
- process mineralogy case studies
From the results presented it is clear that mineralogists are either now, or will in the very near future, be able to draw on a wide range of techniques to allow the automated analysis of earth resource materials. These include optical, near infra-red, X-ray beam, laser beam, electron beam (SEM, EPMA), and proton beam techniques, to name a few. Full details of the technical program can be found at MEI Online - www.min-eng.com/automatedmineralogy06/prog.html.
Personal highlights from the conference included presentations showing the progress of key SEM-based instruments such as QEMSCAN and MLA and how the rapid uptake of both technologies by the mining and process mineralogy community has greatly assisted in planning, monitoring and controlling mining operations. The role of automated mineralogical identification methods now forms an integral part of many projects and the two techniques are intimately involved in mineralogical investigations in industries as diverse as mineral sands, coal, diamond, platinum, gold, nickel, copper and aluminium (bauxite).
Other highlights included exciting developments in non SEM-based characterisation methods such as Laser Induced Fluorescence (LIF), detection of bulk mineralogy using radio frequency (RF) techniques, on-line mid-infrared reflectance characterisation, on-line X-ray diffraction (XRD) and the use of robotic instrumentation to fully automate sample analysis procedures. Although many of these techniques have not yet reached the same level of ripeness as the SEM-based (or optical) methods they will, in the very near future, complement the current automated techniques, further adding to the available arsenal of mineralogical tools.
It was interesting to note that the traditional mineralogical (e.g. XRD) and emerging techniques were considerably under-represented compared to existing SEM-based methods. No doubt this reflects the maturity of the newer automated techniques plus their already comparatively wide exposure and use within the mining community. If possible, in future Automated Mineralogy symposia, it would perhaps be desirable to have greater input from other mineralogical characterisation techniques.
A further point for consideration is directed to those of us with conventional geological/mineralogical backgrounds. We shouldn’t be constrained to think of mineralogy as only pertaining to problems associated with hard-rock mining and process metallurgy. Mineral identification is also important in oil exploration, forensics, industrial minerals processing, environmental studies, etc. Many of these disciplines already employ, or are starting to employ, automated identification procedures so perhaps we should expand our horizons a little and encourage some of these along to the next Automated Mineralogy conference?
As a last comment, MEI is to be congratulated for a wonderful two days of stimulating scientific content. To those who haven’t attended an MEI-sponsored event, the unique format of their conferences (small numbers of participants; short, concise presentations; and long tea and lunch breaks providing plenty of opportunity for discussion) works extremely well.
The next Automated Mineralogy conference will again be held in Brisbane from 1 to 2 September, 2007, immediately following Precious Metals 07. Details can be found at www.min-eng.com/automatedmineralogy07/
Mark Pownceby, CSIRO Minerals, Australia. Email: Mark.Pownceby@csiro.au