By Phyllis Mak, Communications Intern at RIC Centre
A machine that can detect miniscule pieces of gold—even just flecks of the valuable mineral—from unpolished samples within minutes seems like a device straight out of a science fiction novel. But if there’s anything novel about the Gold Sniffer, it’s that it’s the first and only one of its kind. Jim Kendall, President of Gold Sniffer Inc. and inventor of the Gold Sniffer, reveals the inner workings of his invention and what it’s capable of.
“There was no device that could detect gold in mineral samples in the field due to the low concentration of gold in nature,” Jim explains. “Geologists have used magnifying glasses and laboratory analysis of mineral samples to explore for gold, but it takes several weeks to get results, which slows down gold exploration making it less efficient and more expensive.”
Since visual examination is often an inadequate and unreliable way to locate small gold and mineral particles, Jim realized that there was a need to analyze mineral samples for their gold particles and associated minerals with a fast and inexpensive technique.
“This information is used to optimize the processing of gold ore to obtain more gold at a lower processing cost. This type of information can permit a mine to produce millions of dollars more gold each year,” Jim adds.
The Gold Sniffer is a portable, visible optics device that helps users find gold and other minerals in unpolished ore samples by using visible light to detect micron sized particles of gold and minerals. Normally, samples are sent to labs for analysis, but the Gold Sniffer can complete the process on-site in just 90 seconds per measurement. It takes a digital photograph and analyzes the digital data with a proprietary algorithm that can detect particles as small as 1.6 microns. The Gold Sniffer can measure and display gold and up to four minerals from a single measurement. It can also provide histograms of the shape and size distributions of gold and mineral particles, which is valuable data for optimizing the processing of ore.
The process of developing the Gold Sniffer started with the physics of the gold atom, which explains why gold has a unique golden colour and why it occurs in nature as a metal. These properties indicate that gold can be detected in a mineral sample by developing a technique that can detect micron sized particles with a golden colour.
“The eureka moment was the realization that digital photography can detect gold particles by using a macro lens, a custom light source and a method to process the digital data so that micron-sized features of gold and its associated minerals can be detected on the surface of a mineral sample,” Jim explains.
But that’s not all the Gold Sniffer can do—this technique can work on the unpolished surface of a mineral sample. Instead of using a perfectly polished sample, the Gold Sniffer’s ability to measure a sample without polishing saves users weeks of waiting for sample preparation and significant expense, and permits analysis to occur in the field. Portability isn’t an issue either. The Gold Sniffer fits into a convenient carrying case and can be brought as carry-on luggage on commercial airline flights.
When Jim attended a RIC Centre breakfast seminar in February 2011, he began the process of learning how to be an entrepreneur from the RIC Centre. This included attending more breakfast seminars, the Venture Start program, mentoring by the Entrepreneurs-in-Residence Tim Scott and James Sbrolla, and Peer-to-Peer meetings.
“Tim Scott introduced me to Bettina Klenkler at the Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE), who suggested that I work with Conestoga College to develop the Gold Sniffer,” Jim says. “This led to Gold Sniffer Inc. working with Conestoga College in Kitchener from 2012 to 2016 to develop the hardware, software, algorithms, optics and mechanical design to build a practical product.”
Two major Canadian gold mining companies supported the development of the Gold Sniffer with funding, mineral samples and field trials. Work with a third major Canadian gold mining company has led to advances in Gold Sniffer measurement techniques and a paper that was published at the Gold17 Conference in Rotorua, New Zealand.
The Gold Sniffer was used to analyze the tailings—minerals left after the sulphide minerals are extracted—from a floatation process at a large gold mine. The Gold Sniffer was also used to study the gold and minerals in the Tunkillia deposit in South Australia, where good agreement was obtained between the Gold Sniffer’s estimate of gold grades (i.e. the concentration of gold) and those obtained from the traditional fire assay method.
Jim was also featured in the Whitehorse Daily Star, which highlights the Gold Sniffer’s ability to increase profit and reduce costs for placer (i.e. stream and river mining) and hardrock mining, as well as gold exploration.
In 2016, Gold Sniffer sold products and services in Canada and Australia, hired a talented group of staff for manufacturing, sales and marketing, customer support, research and development, and finance and accounting. In 2017, Gold Sniffer hopes to sell more products and services in a broader range of countries and expand the number of minerals that the Gold Sniffer can detect.
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