PDAC: ColdBlock sample prep is a game changer

Have you ever seen the word "innovation" only to be disappointed that the product doesn't deliver on its promise?

Have you ever seen the word "innovation" only to be disappointed that the product doesn't deliver on its promise?

Those days are over with the game changing ColdBlock™ laboratory sample digestion technology unveiled this week at the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada meeting and trade show.

ColdBlock is the brain child of inventors Ron Emburgh and Ravi Kanipayor in 2009. They had both technical and monetary support from Brock University, the Centre for Excellence in Mining Innovation (CEMI), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), the Ontario Centres for Excellence (OCE), and Barrick Gold. To commercialize the technique, start-up ColdBlock Technologies was created under the leadership of CEO Nick Kuryluk and president Emburgh.

What is ColdBlock? It uses focused shortwave infrared energy to dissolve rock samples for analysis by inductively coupled plasma spectrometer, atomic absorption spectrometer or similar means. It offers fast sample turn around times, virtually no acid fuming, safe operation, low capital and operating costs, and the ability to be automated to the scale of commercial assay laboratories. And the method has been independently verified.

The modular apparatus consists of a base containing six channels, each with ring shaped infrared generators, and the top portion provides support for glass test tubes. A rock sample is pulverized to 200 mesh and a small representive sample amount is placed in the tube along with 3 to 6 ml of acid/acid mixture.

The tubes are set in the holder, and the operator presses the start button. That's it. The sequence is software controlled. The rock particles are directly heated by the infrared energy, and the acid remains cooler. To ensure the liquid stays below the boiling point, a cooling mechanism is also built into the base.

ColdBlock dissolution beats conventional acid digestion methods.

Shorter turn around times. The infrared waves heat the rock particles in a matter of seconds to temperatures of 500° to 700° even 1,000°C. More thorough digestion takes place of both base and precious metals quickly, between 10 and 15 minutes. For instance, chromium can be completely recovered from chromite in 12 minutes. There is no need for long cooling time for the acid after digestion because it is not directly heated in the first place.

Conventional digestion methods can take up to several hours and may not be as thorough as ColdBlock results.

Safety is improved. The use of perchloric acid is eliminated. Less hazardous acids are used, and the amount is generally 75% less than in hot block methods. Because the acid stays cooler there is no dangerous fuming.

Both capital and operating costs are lower. Capital costs are less because the  need for fume capture and scrubbing equipment is far less than with hot block methods. Operating costs are reduced, first by the use of less acid and again with the use of automation.

Productivity is improved. The ColdBlock process can be automated to take full advantage of shorter turnaround times. The basic unit is modular, and it is an easy process to expand the number of samples that can be tested at the same time, even to the scale of commercial assay laboratories.

"Productivity is the name of the game for today's mining industry," added Emburgh.

That is ColdBlock in a nutshell. For the mining and mineral analysis sectors, it could soon become "best practice" for sample digestion ahead of analysis. And other industries are interested as well – environmental monitoring, fertilizer use in agriculture, nutrient analysis in the food industry.

If our readers have the opportunity, join the ColdBlock team for breakfast on Wed., March 4 from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. in Room 205B of the North Building at the Metro Convention Center. Please RSVP at ColdBlock.ca


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