Could materials analysis bring mining to Mars?

Did you know that just one 500-meter metal-rich asteroid could contain the equivalent of all the platinum-group metals mined on Earth so far? The potential for mining on Mars and other celestial bodies is huge. And this potential is reflected in the growing number of organizations that have pioneered asteroid mining projects in recent years, such as Deep Space Industries and Planetary Resources.

Mining on Mars isn’t quite here yet – but it could be closer than we think. Even here on Earth, the mining industry is moving toward a future of more remote operations, enabled by robots, sensors, machine learning, and predictive analysis.

Automation: Enabling more remote mining

In this mining future, digitized geological data and autonomous equipment could establish site conditions and collect samples. Sensors – integrated into the Internet of Things – could capture data on these samples in real-time. Operators could communicate with each other and with colleagues in other locations using wearable devices. Drones could monitor safety and stock. And materials could be transported to remote operations centers, with ‘digital twins’ accessing information on engineering and assets.

These automated processes would make mining safer, more efficient, and more sustainable. Fewer – or even no – people would be required, reducing costs and risk. Digitalized data and autonomous equipment would minimize error, enabling safer, more successful operations. More efficient ore processing and higher recovery rates would reduce costs and increase revenue, making mining more profitable and reducing waste. Most significantly, automation would enable larger-scale operation in remote areas, opening a world of new possibilities.

Making it happen with materials analysis

But what do we need to make this exciting future a reality? Strong materials analysis solutions! By enabling real-time monitoring of ore quality and impurities, remote sensing, and automated lab analysis, these tools can expand the potential for remote mining. And, at Malvern Panalytical, we offer several materials analysis instruments to support mining customers in achieving this potential.

To start with, several of our in-field instruments incorporate features that allow use in remote areas. From our Epsilon 1 XRF spectrometer enabling fast, accurate impurity analysis directly in the field, to the ASD FieldSpec and TerraSpec NIR spectrometers that allow geologists, and maybe in the future astronauts, to explore new ore deposits, these tools make mining in remote areas much more accessible.

Next, when it comes to lab analysis, we provide multiple automated process control solutions – from sample transportation and preparation to analysis and results processing. These include our Aeris X-Ray Diffractometer, our Zetium or Epsilon 4 elemental analysis platform, and our Mastersizer 3000 particle sizing instruments. With these solutions, users can automate the entire lab analysis process – and achieve higher repeatability, smaller tolerances, and lower costs.

Onward and upward

And it doesn’t stop there. As well as our existing solutions, we’ve also been supporting the development of new automated technology by working with the Process Automation Group (PAS), setting up Frontier Analytics hubs in Bristol and Porto, and leading our ASD SummitCal group. And, of course, we provide tailored support for all our instruments to help mining companies take full advantage of them. Perhaps full-scale mining on Mars isn’t so far away…

Want to learn more about our analysis solutions for mining? Please visit our dedicated webpages or contact me.