University of Texas at Austin

XRF Technology Deciphers Rocks

May 25, 2016

XRF Technology Deciphers Rocks

For decades, drillers have examined core and cuttings to try to understand the depositional environment of rocks and determine the likelihood of a given horizon to carry hydrocarbons in commercial quantities. Now, with X-ray fluorescence, or XRF, geologists have a fast, effective tool to read the mineral composition of rock samples in minute detail. The Bureau of Economic Geology’s XRF Laboratory is perfecting the use of this significant technology every day.

The XRF Laboratory, overseen by research scientist Harry Rowe, utilizes a suite of equipment, and the work of a number of researchers and students, to analyze core and other rock material, much of which is provided by partners in Bureau research consortia such as the Mudrock Systems Research Laboratory and the Reservoir Characterization Research Laboratory. The XRF Laboratory can relatively quickly generate high-resolution data from a drill core that fingerprints a particular zone, determining the core’s elemental composition and, from that, deducing its mineral content and probable depositional environment.

What distinguishes the work of the Bureau’s XRF Laboratory from many common commercial practices is the great care that is taken when conducting each analysis. “XRF has limitations that need to be taken into account,” Rowe cautions. “There’s an art to getting the right number, and not just getting a number.” For instance, rocks to be scanned in the Lab are thoroughly cleaned before analysis to mitigate any brine buildup from evaporating water or any biological matter that may have grown on the face of the sample.  

“XRF equipment will get faster and more sensitive, and will be in any geologist’s toolbox one day,” Rowe predicts. “XRF provides timely automated analysis of drill core, helping us to understand lithologic variability and heterogeneity at subfacies scale.”

For more information about XRF and the Bureau’s XRF Laboratory, contact Dr. Harry Rowe.

Bureau's XRF Laboratory personnel

Skilled and experienced personnel are the key to results in the Bureau's XRF Laboratory. Pictured from left to right are Miranda Bernard, lab manager Evan Sivil, and Jarred Garza.