New technology to unlock ‘sub-economic’ minerals, says UCT

By: Natalie Greve
3rd July 2014

JOHANNESBURG ( – The University of Cape Town (UCT) says a new acquisition by the university’s Centre for Minerals Research (CMR) is able to identify valuable minerals in ore of such low quality that it was previously thought of as sub-economic.

The R14-million Quantitative Evaluation of Minerals by Scanning Electron Microscopy (Qemscan) machine, which was largely subsidised by the National Research Foundation, provides detailed quantitative analysis of minerals, rocks, soils and manmade products more rapidly than was previously possible.

Key to its accuracy is a high-energy accelerating electron beam, which scans the surface of an object and produces a colour-coded picture of the minerals.

As high-quality ore stocks become depleted, mining companies were increasingly forced to revisit those ores that had relatively small concentrations of the target minerals.

Applications of the technology could include those related to mineral processing, minerals beneficiation, metallurgy, economic geology, environmental science, oil and gas, archaeology, environmental science, soil science and viticulture.

CMR process mineralogy head Dr Megan Becker said that, prior to the introduction of Qemscan technology, analysing these samples was a laborious matter that involved viewing ore through microscopes and recording data manually.

“We know that these easy-to-process ores are running out. The mining industry will be forced to overcome a mineralogical barrier using innovative technology to unlock the value of rocks that are currently considered sub-economic,” she commented.

The FEI-manufactured Qemscan would be available to the industry and other institutions in the region, including the University of the Western Cape, the Cape Peninsula University of Technology and Stellenbosch University.

Edited by: Chanel de Bruyn