In the mining industry, the elemental analysis of raw materials is a key step in the manufacturing process, for which quality, optimisation and profitability are primordial requirements.
Over recent years, increasingly efficient technologies have been developed to analyse the composition of raw materials on line, thus making it possible to adapt raw material preparation operations instantly. One of the most widely used technologies is neutron analysis. Through its penetration capacity, it allows the analysis of several tonnes of material in real time. Neutron activation analysis is commonly used in the cement industry, the coal industry and, more recently, for minerals and waste.
However, the integration of a neutron source in an industrial facility must not be done to the detriment of the environment or operator safety.
SODERN's technology makes it possible to do away with artificial isotopic sources (Cf252 or Am-Be), which are still widely used even though they have been classed as "highly toxic" radionucleides by European regulations, and which pose an additional hazard as they are impossible to extinguish.
Over recent decades, a safer, more innovative alternative to this technology has been developed by SODERN. With over 40 years' experience in the design and production of neutron tubes, SODERN is the global specialist in neutron analysis systems using an electrical source.
The generation of neutrons in a tube is based on the interaction between deuterium and tritium ions, which mainly creates neutrons with a kinetic energy of 14 MeV.
The use of a pulsed source makes it possible to apply a more advanced analytical method called PFTNA (Pulsed Fast and Thermal Neutron Activation).
This method consists in bombarding the raw material with pulsed neutrons, then measuring the energy of the gamma rays induced by the interaction of the neutrons with the nuclei of the atoms. Most of the elements composing the raw material are identified and immediately quantified.
This technology presents numerous advantages in terms of analytical performance, as well as environmental and operator safety.
The use of an electrical neutron source guarantees the stability of the system's analytical performance, through the constant production of neutrons throughout its life cycle. This characteristic reduces the number of periodic calibration operations, which are often difficult to carry out on-site and are always detrimental to production.
Moreover, with its On/Off function, the electrical neutron source can be handled without risk and can easily be transported by air as an excepted package, stored as a spare part and replaced whenever necessary without interrupting the production process.
Figure 1: Nuclear reactions initiated by thermal neutrons (capture reactions) and fast neutrons (inelastic scattering).