Analysing the elements

Researchers from Australia’s Co-operative Research Centre for Clean Power from Lignite (CRC CPL) have designed and commercialised a new analysis instrument.

Researchers from Australia’s Co-operative Research Centre for Clean Power from Lignite (CRC CPL) have designed and commercialised a new instrument.  Called the “Spectrolaser” , it can be used to analyse the atomic elements in virtually any material, quickly and cheaply.

“The Spectrolaser can determine the elemental makeup all kinds of materials. It produces a bright spark – or plasma – at the surface of the target substance and the composition of the light emitted is analysed by a unique spectrometer and detection system,” explained CRC CPL chief executive Dr. Peter Jackson.

“Every element gives off a characteristic spectral emission, enabling you to tell quickly and easily what elements comprise the material you are analysing.”

The Spectrolaser is a high tech offspring of the coal industry. The idea grew out of the CRC’s research into coal gasification and the instrument was initially designed to perform rapid analyses of coal quality, to help power stations operate more efficiently.

Coal varies in moisture, organic components, and trace elements. Some coals burn better than others, some cause greater corrosion of furnaces, others deposit more ash and char. If operators understand the composition of the coal before it is fed into a furnace, then combustion conditions can be tweaked to improve burning efficiency and reduce fouling.

However the Spectrolaser can also be used to analyse minerals, building materials, metals and alloys, pharmaceuticals, manufactured products and to carry out environmental monitoring.

“Like atomic absorption, laser spectrometry has an enormous range of potential uses in industry, healthcare and the environment,” Dr. Jackson said.

“Another great advantage is that the instrument can be built using off-the-shelf components and is therefore relatively low-cost,” he added.

“Most of the value has been added in the smart software that operates the system, and in creating a library of characteristic emission signatures to automate element identification.”

To find the right partner to get to market the CRC team conducted a careful search and identified Automated Fusion Technology (AFT), a Melbourne-based firm with a 10-year track record for quality instrumentation.

The intellectual property of the CRC in the Laser Plasma Spectrometer—including two patents, software source codes, circuit board designs, schematics, and available know-how—was exclusively licensed to a joint venture, Laser Analysis Technologies in 2002.

Two years later, Automated Fusion Technology merged with a number of other companies to form XRF Scientific, and LAT subsequently became part of the merged XRFS Group.