Kick-Off of the “inSPECTor” Joint Project – Spectroscopy Sensor Prototype Development for REEs

Laboratory for laser-induced fluorescence
How can rare earth elements (REEs) and other critical raw materials be analyzed quickly, precisely and in a non-destructive manner? The project partners in the collaborative EIT RawMaterials “inSPECTor” project met with the goal of developing a prototype of an innovative sensor system.

The rare earth elements are a group of metallic elements in the periodic table (including e.g. cerium, neodymium and erbium) that are indispensable for modern high-tech industry, including for the manufacture of touchscreens, powerful magnets or in optical data transmission. Despite their name, rare earth elements are generally quite common in the earth’s crust, though they are normally so evenly distributed that they often prove difficult to find and extract.

Hyperspectral imaging is a process that utilizes specific reflective properties to produce spatially resolved images that depict the distribution of individual minerals in rock. However, its detection sensitivity is limited in many cases. In contrast, laser-induced fluorescence facilitates greatly improved detection sensitivity when analyzing certain special raw materials, such as e.g. rare earth elements, which exhibit characteristic radiance profiles when illuminated with laser light of a certain wavelength. The combination of these two technologies will enable geologists to carry out rapid, non-contact and highly sensitive analysis of rock samples, which to date could only be realized at this degree of sensitivity by means of complex and time-consuming chemical analysis.

People in a workshop situation

Under the guidance of the Helmholtz Institute Freiberg for Resource Technology (HIF), the Institute of Applied Physics at TU Bergakademie Freiberg and industrial partners (Freiberg Instruments GmbH and SPECIM Spectral Imaging Ltd. from Finland), this innovative technology will enable the efficient and high-resolution characterization and 2D mapping of natural rock samples and drill cores. In addition, the technique could also be utilized for the processing and/or recycling of recoverable materials. The project duration is planned for an initial three years, i.e. until the end of March 2020.

 Initiated by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), EIT RawMaterials is the largest and most significant consortium in the raw materials sector worldwide. It supports European projects via radical innovation and guided entrepreneurship, thus boosting the competitiveness, growth and attractiveness of the European raw materials sector.

Fragen beantwortet / Contact: 
Dr. Jan Beyer, Tel.: +49 (0)3731 39-2162