November 2010


Meeting industry’s needs: Innovative microanalysis centre offers extensive analytical solutions

By Steven Creighton

Steven Creighton

SRC’s Steven Creighton operates the Cameca SX-100 electron microprobe designed for micro-scale chemical analyisPhoto courtesy of Saskatchewan Research Council

In February 2010, the Saskatchewan Research Council (SRC) announced the opening of a new laboratory facility — the Advanced Microanalysis Centre — centred on two pieces of equipment designed for micro-scale chemical analysis: a Cameca SX-100 electron microprobe and a New Wave UP-213 laser ablation system coupled to a quadrupole mass spectrometer.

The Advanced Microanalysis Centre comprises several sample preparation facilities and additional analytical equipment — two complete thin section laboratories, one of which is dedicated to the preparation of thin sections from radioactive material and is located in an area licensed by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) for handling uranium ore, X-ray fluorescence (XRF) and X-ray diffraction (XRD) analysis. A scanning electron microscope (SEM) for high-resolution imaging completes the analytical services the centre offers.

These new services, in combination with those offered by SRC Geoanalytical Laboratories, offer an extensive set of analytical solutions to service the mining industry’s needs in a single location, helping ensure that all data and samples are kept secure and confidential.

The new equipment and range of analyses have been well received by clients. Irvine Annesley, a senior geologist with Saskatoon-based JNR Resources Inc., says the centre allows him to use microanalytical techniques in Saskatchewan that were previously only available elsewhere in Canada, France, Germany, Australia and the United States. “It will save time and allow us to be more efficient in making leading-edge decisions for our uranium exploration programs,” shares Annesley.

Exploration, mining and processing using the Advanced Microanalysis Centre

The Advanced Microanalysis Centre’s analytical capabilities are beneficial in exploring for a wide variety of commodities. A few industry-specific examples include:

Diamonds: Electron microprobe analysis of kimberlite indicator minerals for major and minor element concentration to identify G10 garnets indicative of high diamond potential; trace-element analysis by laser ablation mass spectrometry for Ni-in-garnet thermometry.

Uranium: The Advanced Microanalysis Centre can prepare thin sections of mineralized and other radioactive materials for petrographic descriptions and other analyses; the electron microprobe can be used for U-Th-Pb analysis of uraniferous minerals from which chemical ages can be calculated. XRF analysis offers whole-rock chemical composition including SiO2 and a separate, independent assay for total U (as U3O8). XRD analysis is commonly used to identify clays in alteration halos around uranium mineralization.

Potash: XRD analysis is useful for identifying the minerals present both in the ore and in insoluble material. Furthermore, the clay minerals in the insoluble fraction can be measured semi-quantitatively by XRD. XRF analysis is used for whole rock chemical analysis and includes halogen (F and Cl) analysis.

Oil sands/shales and coal: The primary thin section lab is capable of producing thin sections of semi-consolidated material and ultra-thin sections (<10 μmetres thick) of coal. XRF can be used to analyze oil sands/shale without the need for special sample preparation (e.g. extraction of hydrocarbons) including the analysis of potentially toxic trace metals (As, Se, etc.) or secondary products in tailings (e.g. Ti, Fe).

Gold: SEM is commonly used for examining the morphology of gold grains as an indication of transport distance. Electron microprobe analysis of trace amounts of gold in sulfide minerals can be useful for tracing dispersed detrital grains to their source.

Rare earth elements (REE): Electron microprobe analysis of REE-bearing minerals is useful for identifying not only the concentration of the REE present, but also the matrix type (phosphate, carbonate-fluoride, silicate or oxide). XRF analysis can provide the total rare earth oxides (REO) concentration of a bulk sample.

Radhika Udinoor-Palliath SRC’s Radhika Udinoor-Palliath conducts X-ray diffraction analyses for mineral identification | Photo courtesy of Saskatchewan Research Council

Developing new paradigms

While the Advanced Microanalysis Centre is able to provide the routine analyses required for mineral exploration, access to equipment normally available only in universities provides the opportunity for collaborative, client-focused, applied research projects. One of the Advanced Microanalysis Centre’s main goals is to work with mineral exploration companies to assist in developing new exploration paradigms that will result in new discoveries and maximize value-added products in existing deposits.

The facilities, expertise and technologies offered through the new centre will also provide the capability and infrastructure needed to develop these new paradigms in applied research and support service for resource exploration, mining, processing and development in other areas.

Complementary research facilities such as SRC Environmental Analytical Laboratories, as well as other research labs such as the nearby Canadian Light Source (CLS) synchrotron, offer an impressive array of research capabilities in a wide range of disciplines. While the mining industry is one of the Advanced Microanalysis Centre’s key clients, other research areas, such as biomedicine, materials and biotechnology, are using these combined capabilities.

The centre is already working in close collaboration with the CLS synchrotron in Saskatoon and can provide support to synchrotron users. A significant benefit of this collaboration is that researchers will have information about the chemical composition of materials prior to using synchrotron technologies. SRC’s proximity to the CLS synchrotron makes this cross-collaboration a natural outgrowth of the increased knowledge-based infrastructure of the combined facilities at both laboratories, thereby providing valuable support to the mining industry.

SRC is also using the centre to work with the University of Saskatchewan’s Department of Geological Sciences on joint projects. As well, Dr. Annesley of JNR Resources Inc. is collaborating with the centre to develop new exploration tools.

Carl Zimmer
Steven Creighton’s expertise is in diamond exploration, kimberlite geology and mantle petrology. He is highly qualified using electron and X-ray analysis techniques, and leads a team of experts and manages the Advanced Microanalysis Centre at Saskatchewan Research Council. 

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