Applications for X-Ray Fluorescence

What is X-Ray Fluorescence?

XRF (X-ray fluorescence) is a non-destructive analytical technique used to determine the elemental composition of materials. XRF analyzers determine the chemistry of a sample by measuring the fluorescent (or secondary) X-ray emitted from a sample when it is excited by a primary X-ray source. Each of the elements present in a sample produces a set of characteristic fluorescent X-rays ("a fingerprint") that is unique for that specific element, which is why XRF spectroscopy is an excellent technology for qualitative and quantitative analysis of material composition.

The X-Ray Fluorescence Process

  1. A solid or a liquid sample is irradiated with high energy X-rays from a controlled X-ray tube.
  2. When an atom in the sample is struck with an X-ray of sufficient energy (greater than the atom’s K or L shell binding energy), an electron from one of the atom’s inner orbital shells is dislodged.
  3. The atom regains stability, filling the vacancy left in the inner orbital shell with an electron from one of the atom’s higher energy orbital shells.
  4. The electron drops to the lower energy state by releasing a fluorescent X-ray. The energy of this X-ray is equal to the specific difference in energy between two quantum states of the electron. The measurement of this energy is the basis of XRF analysis.

Most atoms have several electron orbitals (K shell, L shell, M shell, for example). When x-ray energy causes electrons to transfer in and out of these shell levels, XRF peaks with varying intensities are created and will be present in the spectrum, a graphical representation of X-ray intensity peaks as a function of energy peaks. The peak energy identifies the element, and the peak height/intensity is generally indicative of its concentration.

Metal & Alloy Analysis

Metal manufacturing and processing requires precision at the elemental level, but with globalized trade in scrap metal, the rise in counterfeit metals, and the possibility of inaccurate material test reports (MTRs), all participants in the metal industry—suppliers, distributors, inspectors and industrial consumers—are at risk of alloy mix-ups.

Misidentifying metal hurts your brand and your bottom line. Wrong or out-of-specification alloy grades can lead to potentially catastrophic equipment failures, a well-known issue in the refining and aerospace industries.

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Manufacturing and Metal Fabrication

The potential for material mix-ups and the need for traceability are a concern at every step in the metal fabrication and manufacturing process. But ensuring your metals are made from the right ingredients in the right percentages isn’t as simple as checking a material test report (MTR); significant discrepancies have been discovered between material certifications and actual alloy chemistries.

Scrap Metal Recycling

The scrap metal recycling industry generates billions in revenue and is projected to keep growing as more and more recycled materials are being used in fabrication processes. While scrap metal recycling has obvious financial and environmental advantages, many varieties of metal are now entering scrap yards, often from unknown sources. Even when the source and composition of metal is documented, metals are often found to be mislabeled or misidentified. Globalized trade in scrap metal, alloy stock, and finished products is contributing to the incidence of alloy mix-ups.

Positive Material Identification

Thermo Scientific™ Niton™ portable XRF analyzers play an important role in any industry where positive material identification and elemental chemistry are critical. With lab-quality results delivered in seconds rather than the days or weeks it can take for a traditional testing laboratory, production delays can be avoided, safety compliance achieved, and customer expectations met.

Precious Metal and Jewelry Analysis

Businesses that buy and recycle gold also have a lot at stake. Failing to identify counterfeit gold or inaccurately measuring karat (K) weight of gold jewelry can be an expensive mistake. Niton analyzers equipped with Thermo Scientific™ AuDIT™ gold-plating detection technology identify the precious metal content in jewelry, coins, and other valuable products with fire assay-comparable accuracy.

Consumer & Environmental Safety

Toxic metals such as lead, mercury and cadmium potentially touch our lives every day, from paint and asbestos in homes and buildings to clothing, toys, and electronics – even art and artifacts.

Thermo Scientific™ Niton™ portable analyzers are trusted by key regulatory agencies to screen consumer products for these hazardous materials. Manufacturers, builders, and remediation specialists rely on our analyzers to positively identify hazardous materials in the field for improved worksite safety and internal quality control.

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Environmental Safety

The identification and remediation of environmental contaminants is a major, costly challenge. From hazardous site modeling and risk assessment to on-site contaminant screening and soil stabilization, our analyzers provide nearly instantaneous, legally-defensible results for fast decision making at significantly less cost than off-site laboratory testing.

Consumer Goods

An effective screening program using our analyzers greatly reduces the chances that lead-containing materials will enter the manufacturing process or mistakenly end up on store shelves. This starts with a process that includes rapid screening of metals, polymers, and components at the receiving dock, in the warehouse, during product assembly, at vendor sites, and through product packaging.

Mining & Exploration

From a volatile commodities market to financing, safety, and employment issues, the pressure on mining companies to increase efficiency and productivity has never been greater. With a fierce competitive landscape and substantial capital investments at stake, mining companies need to quickly identify and recover the most economically viable resources.

Miners seek solutions for rapid sample analysis that will enable them to increase discovery success rates, identify drill targets quickly, make on-site decisions about whether to stop or continue drilling, and decide where to focus on the grid. Miners must also get an accurate report to the capital markets as fast as possible.

Thermo Scientific™ Niton™ portable x-ray fluorescence (XRF) analyzers are making a critical difference in mining exploration and production. Designed for rugged field environments, our analyzers provide rapid, on-site qualitative screening directly in-situ or lab-quality quantitative analysis on prepared samples, bypassing the costly and time-consuming process of sending samples to off-site laboratories and waiting days, or even months, for critical data. With rapid sample analysis, you get real-time geochemical data to guide drilling decisions, enable high-productivity operations, and gain a competitive advantage.

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Oil & Gas Exploration

Our analyzers, particularly the Thermo Scientific™ Niton™ Field X-ray Lab (FXL) equipped with Thermo Scientific™ z-CAL™, a fit-for-purpose calibration and operation methodology for light elemental analysis, enable users to more accurately detect oil-bearing strata, improve mud-logging and support geo-steering. Our instruments can analyze trace elements and light elements, including low levels of magnesium and aluminum, in prepared samples and with or without He, depending on the desired performance.

Hard Rock Mining Analysis

Whether you’re looking for base metals or precious metals, Thermo Scientific™ Niton™ portable x-ray fluorescence (XRF) analyzers provide you with mining exploration assay data within seconds, allowing for real-time ore deposit modeling and ore grade control.

Low detection limits plus light element analysis – without helium purge or vacuum – allow you to identify element concentrations at or below the averages naturally found in the earth's crust, detecting even the most subtle geochemical anomalies. Our analyzers can be operated virtually anywhere on site and easily accommodate a wide variation of samples with little or no preparation, whether they are in the form of drill core, bagged samples, or cut directly from the mine face.

Mineralogy & Rare Earth Element Analysis

Niton analyzers are indispensable tools for the analysis of the light series of REEs (LREEs), including lanthanum (La), cerium (Ce), praseodymium (Pr), and neodymium (Nd). Other elements associated with REE-bearing minerals such as thorium (Th) and Yttriym (Y) can also be analyzed. By using the concentrations from these elements, especially Y, it is possible to infer concentrations of heavy REEs (HREEs) that are commonly associated with Y-containing host minerals.

Niton analyzers can be used in the measurement, mapping, and characterization of various types of ores including: Iron Ore, Bauxite, Precious metals (including Platinum Group Metals), Tantalum (Ta) and tin (Sn).