Shale vs. slate XRD identification—know your slate or pay dearly

Shale and slate are sometimes used interchangeably, but the materials are not the same. Many of the items sold today for landscaping (flagstones, retaining walls) and construction (chalkboards, roofing tiles, pool tables, etc.) uses as "slate " is actually the much more inferior form—shale. Shale is sedimentary rock, lightly compacted into thin, crumbly layers. It may contain high concentrations of quartz, feldspars, pyrites amorphous silica, and clay minerals: illite, kaolinite, chlorite and smectite (montmorillionite). This smectite clay is a highly absorbent component that can swell to several times it's normal size, making the shale loose strength. Slate, a metamorphic rock, on the other hand is much stronger and does not absorb water (remember how fast those school blackboards would dry when you had to stay after class?) Generally, it has much greater strength. However, certain types of slate still may be less than desirable. There also is a high calcite/dolomite form of slate called Marl Slate, from Durham, UK, which can be softer and easily attacked by acids. Shales, a much cheaper material, may be sold as slates at higher prices with a substantially reduced strength and product life. The MiniFlex benchtop XRD system can measure both the bulk piece of the slate or a ground powder form of the shale and identify each material.

shale1

Figure 1: Shale sample

shale2

Figure 2: Slate sample

shale3

Figure 3: Diffraction pattern of a shale containing quartz, chlorite and illite

shale4

Figure 4: Diffraction pattern of slate (Marl type) with phase markers listed

The use of X-ray fluorescence elemental mapping analysis is also helpful in identifying the concentration variations across the surfaces and verify the X-ray diffraction phase analysis. Please see the application byte Mapping and semi-quantitative analysis of shale-slate for details.


The fifth generation MiniFlex is a general purpose X-ray diffractometer that can perform qualitative and quantitative analysis of polycrystalline materials. The MiniFlex is available in two variations. Operating at 600 watts (X-ray tube), the MiniFlex 600 is twice as powerful as other benchtop models, enabling faster analysis and improved overall throughput. Running at 300 watts (X-ray tube), the new MiniFlex 300 does not require an external heat exchanger. Each model is engineered to maximize flexibility in a benchtop package. Read more...

Ask for more info