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Ore deposits and critical metals

We work to promote sustainable development through future supplies of raw materials. We research the fundamental geological processes that form ore deposits and apply mineralogical studies to more efficient and environmentally friendly mineral processing and metals stewardship. We work particularly on:

  • Critical metals: rare earths (REE), platinum group elements, niobium, tantalum, indium, tungsten, lithium.
  • Granites and metamorphic rocks in South West England and associated ore deposits.
  • Processes in large magma chambers such as the Skaergaard intrusion, Greenland.
  • The Earth’s most unusual volcanoes that erupt carbonate (‘carbonatite’) magmas.

We have a Critical Metals Alliance with the British Geological Survey.

Group members

Camborne School of Mines group members

Critical Metals Alliance

In 2011, Camborne School of Mines and the British Geological Survey (BGS) joined forces to improve research capability in critical metals. The collaboration builds on the knowledge and facilities of each to improve understanding of critical metals ore formation. At the heart of the alliance is BGS Lecturer in Critical and Green Technology Metals Dr Kathryn Moore, leading research into carbonatites and alkaline rock petrogenesis.

The Critical Metals Alliance members are:

Projects

Critical metals are essential in various industrial applications, often in new and green technologies, difficult to substitute and for which the main supply is restricted to just one or two countries. Their supply is thus vulnerable to disruption. The European Union has defined 14 critical materials. Amongst these, we have particular expertise on rare earths, platinum group elements, niobium, tantalum, indium, and tungsten. The University is working in collaboration with the British Geological Survey, to improve our knowledge of how these deposits form and to work on new ways to extract them from waste materials and as by-products.

The rare earth elements include the lanthanide group of the periodic table, and yttrium. They are principally used in high-tech applications, such as high-strength permanent magnets, and are considered as ‘critical metals’ (i.e. an irreplaceable metal with a high supply risk) due to concerns regarding China’s near-dominant control of the market (more than 90 per cent).

At Camborne School of Mines, we are working with industry to understand the geology of new rare earth deposits, new mineral processing techniques and the social and environmental implications of rare-earth mining. CSM are involved in, or leading, the research grants SoS-RARE project, and HiTechAlkCarb.

New project to find Europe’s green technology metals

A new four-year project ‘GREENPEG’ has received a grant of €8.3 million from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme to develop new techniques to explore for pegmatite rocks containing lithium and other green technology metals.

The consortium consists of 13 partners from 8 European countries, including universities and exploration and mining companies. The University of Exeter team, which will receive nearly €780k, is led by Ben Williamson with Frances Wall, Camborne School of Mines and Xiaoyu Yan, Engineering, supported by post-doctoral researchers Kate Smith and Rob Pell.

Professor Ben Williamson, Camborne School of Mines, University of Exeter, said: “This is an exciting project and an excellent opportunity to continue state of the art research and innovation with our European colleagues. We will be contributing our geological knowledge of pegmatites, and our environmental expertise, particularly in the technique of life cycle assessment“.

Pegmatite-hosted deposits can be particularly rich in technology metals, such as lithium, but are often small and difficult to find using conventional exploration methods. Europe contains an abundance of pegmatites but very few are currently economic to mine.

The GREENPEG project will develop exploration toolsets for European pegmatite ore deposits. These will be specific to either lithium-caesium-tantalum-, or niobium-yttrium-fluorine-bearing pegmatites, which may also carry high-purity quartz. These raw materials are used in the manufacture of a wide range of green energy devices such as Li-ion batteries for electric cars, solar panels and wind turbines.

It is critical that Europe can source its own supplies of these commodities to meet ambitious 2030 energy and climate targets. The toolsets will be developed at three green and brownfield exploration and mining case study sites at Wolfsberg (Austria), South Leinster (Ireland) and Tysfjord (Norway) where industry partners can immediately benefit from the research.

GREENPEG will integrate its new products and services into associated businesses, attract investment into the European raw materials sector and increase the competitiveness of European green technology metals exploration companies.

For more information see: www.greenpeg.eu

Presentations

View the slides from PhD student Robert Pell's presentation: "Criticality as a life cycle impact indicator for rare earth elements".

Publications »