Sensor for direct, rapid and complete elemental analysis of coal

Period of Performance: 06/12/2017 - 03/11/2018


Phase 1 SBIR

Recipient Firm

Applied Spectra, Inc.
46665 Fremont Blvd Array
Fremont, CA 94538
Firm POC
Principal Investigator


Rare Earth Elements (REE) are critical to the United States, utilized in wind turbines, batteries, catalysts, communications, hybrid engines, magnets, advanced defense systems and other devices. The global demand for REE is increasing and the US is at a disadvantage in not having REE mining or stockpiles; China controls about 90 percent of the world's output for REE. New sources of REE must be established by and within the US to ensure our economic future for these high-technology elements. REE exist in coal and the US has vast coal resources. Measurements of REE concentrations and phase compositions are critical to the ability to separate and purify REE from coal. New sensors are needed for identifying promising REE coal‐based resources and for measuring REE concentrations throughout the coal value chain. Applied Spectra, will demonstrate LIBS (laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy) as an analytical technology for the rapid, direct analysis of REE and concomitants at several stages of coal value chain (coal, pre-cleaned coal, ash, non-ash). The expanse (number of elements) and speed of the LIBS cannot be matched by any other available technology. LIBS is a "green" disruptive technology that does not require consumables and can be used in the field as an inline or transportable sensor. NASA currently utilizes LIBS on Mars for geochemical exploration. Phase I will result in a demonstration of the technology for meeting detection-level requirements of the SBIR solicitation. Phase II will develop an inline/field LIBS instrument for processing REE in the coal industry. Phase I effort will prove that LIBS can measure REE and other constituents in coal at the part-per-billion to % concentration levels. The configuration of an existing instrument will be improved for enhanced sensitivity and chemometric data analytics will be implemented for calibration. Simultaneous ICP-MS (inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry) will be used to validate LIBS data using NIST reference materials. Design of a field prototype instrument for automatic REE measurement in the coal value chain will conclude the Phase I effort. An industrial field LIBS sensor to rapidly analyze coal resources for high technology REE will be developed. LIBS will replace the laborious, slow and expensive acid digestion processes currently used to analyze coal and its byproducts. The technology will enable decisions for extracting REE, enhancing the coal value chain. The sensor will measure every element in coal. This instrument will be viable in other markets, including, overall mining, environmental remediation, nuclear nonproliferation, forensics, advanced manufacturing, conflict minerals and other industrial processing applications.