Mining has advanced light years beyond the pickaxe and shovel. Just how much farther it can develop is a question Earth Sciences professor Neil Banerjee is looking to illuminate.
An economic geologist, Banerjee was recently awarded a Fulbright Canadian Fellowship to help bring synchrotron technology to the mining industry. He will be conducting his research at the Advanced Photon Source synchrotron, affiliated with the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago.
A synchrotron uses high-energy X-rays – at about 10 billon times the intensity of the sun – to produce lightning-fast and incredibly detailed analyses of the structures and properties of metals, chemicals and other substances.
In the case of minerals, using a synchrotron can help analyze minerals in a way the industry has never done. This ‘Mining 2.0’ can offer industrial innovation for exploration, production, processing and effective waste reduction and management, Banerjee said.
A synchrotron allows faster, high-fidelity imagery, “and in some cases allows us to do unique measurements that we wouldn’t be able to do with a laboratory instrument,” he said.
The pharmaceutical, automotive, aerospace industries all make use of this technology in their fields. And while the mining industry is keen to use new technology, they still need proof this will benefit them.
“Most people don’t think however of the mining industry as being innovative. They think of the mining industry as people who use picks and shovels, basically,” Banerjee said.
“They’re innovative in the sense that they’re using machine learning and artificial intelligence to look at a lot of data that’s been compiled over a lot of years. But one thing that is very true about the mining industry is that it’s very risk-averse. So if you bring a new technology forward, it sometimes takes longer for it to be adopted than in other industries.”
Syncrotron spectroscopy can help in the long run in detecting for new ore deposits; producing and processing those ores efficiently and effectively; and managing mining sites and their environmental legacy in the long-term, he said.
Fulbright scholarships and fellowships are a Canada/United States research exchange that supports some of the brightest minds and future leaders in and between the two countries.
Banerjee’s fellowship begins in February.