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:: Erzlabor: A Spin-Off for Raw Materials Characterization
Profound understanding of raw materials’ characteristics is essential for process and resource efficiency in the mining as well as in the recycling sector. Materials characterization has become a powerful tool for the acquisition of quantitative data and is already applied along the entire raw materials value chain, from the exploration of new deposits to their rehabilitation. The newly established company ERZLABOR Advanced Solutions GmbH provides analytical services for the primary as well as secondary resource industry. The team of scientists and engineers from the Helmholtz Institute Freiberg for Resource Technology (HIF) – part of the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) – make state-of-the-art infrastructure and analytical competence available for the industry.
ERZLABOR`s analytical services are applicable throughout the entire raw materials value chain, from exploration to recycling. The services offer numerous advantages, such as the reduction of materials losses and the prediction of environmental impacts. The costumers benefit from an increase in resource and energy efficiency, a reduction of production costs and of technical risk. As a spin-off of the HIF, the company complements to the activities of the institute commercializing under licence innovations in the field of raw materials characterization. ERZLABOR offers both Mineral Liberation Analysis (MLA) and Quantitative Evaluation of Minerals by Scanning Electron Microscopy (QEMSCAN), both techniques are based on image analysis. The managing directors Petya Atanasova and Dr Dirk Sandmann both have strong scientific background. The state-certified engineer Andreas Bartzsch is responsible for the sample preparation. The HZDR Innovation GmbH is a shareholder of the company. “There is a great demand for accurate materials characterization not only in Germany but also in Europe,” says Petya Atanasova. “With the greater emphasis on sustainability in the primary as well as in the secondary raw materials sector, high-quality analytics plays an increasingly important role.”
More efficient use of raw materials
The specialists at ERZLABOR are not only able to perform comprehensive and quantitative analyses of samples but they are also able to search and identify specific minerals, metals or other solid phases that are present only in trace amounts. The results help mining companies to evaluate a new site or to increase the recovery of ore minerals from an existing deposit. Similarly, recycling companies can benefit in their effort to recover raw materials from waste and residues. At present, the industry is still heavily reliant on conventional methods which often provide less information than is needed to optimize resource and energy efficiency. ERZLABOR, on the other hand, can accurately determine a wide range of parameters for any solid material, such as the abundance of minerals and their distribution or the size and shape of particles, parameters that are important for beneficiation. Petya Atanasova: “The use of modern analytical tools pays dividends in terms of the improved risk management that comes from reducing technical uncertainty in projects.”
ERZLABOR currently has clients operating in mining and in construction of mineral processing plants. The company analyzes solid as well as granular materials such as rocks, ores, processing products, tailings, recycling and building materials as well as industrial products.
Start-up as a technology driver
“Our analyses provide clients with tangible information about materials in the raw or processed state,” adds Petya Atanasova. ERZLABOR is working with colleagues from the HIF to further develop the analytical methods used. For example, they are involved in the test of innovative approaches for the quantification of errors associated with MLA and QEMSCAN analyses, an obvious gap in the current use of these analytical tools. The spin-off plans to use an innovative software module for error quantification developed at HIF with the aim to increase the significance of the method to national agencies and the industry.
The young company is currently supported by technology start-up funding from the Saxony State Development Bank (SAB). Prior to this, the Helmholtz Association provided funding and one year incubation time for the development of the business model and the establishment of the company. Atanasova is optimistic about the future: “In five years’ time, we intend to operate our own infrastructure, to have a strong customer base and to belong to the market leaders in Europe.”
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