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GeoNetZero Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT): Developing Mineralogical Controls on Technology Metals in Copper Ores: Resource Potential, Sustainable Mining and Processing Feasibility in the UK

   College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences

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  Prof Karen Hudson-Edwards, Dr H Hughes  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

The CDT led by Herriot Watt, represents an exciting partnership between the Universities of Aberdeen, Birmingham, Dundee, Durham, Exeter, Keele, Newcastle, Nottingham, Plymouth, Royal Holloway and Strathclyde, the British Geological Survey, the Natural Environment Research Council and the Ministry of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy. Its bespoke residential training program is funded by 9 industry sponsors: BP, Cairn Energy, Chrysaor, CNOOC, Equinor, ExxonMobil, Shell, Total and Verus Petroleum.

The CDT's research focus is on tackling the challenge of sustainable resource management and the crucial role the subsurface will play in the low-carbon energy transition towards a net zero carbon economy, covering the full spectrum of topics from carbon storage and geothermal energy to sustainable oil and gas resource management. The CDT projects will be of interest to those with a background primarily in the geosciences.

Copper Background:

Technology metals are the specialist constituent metals essential for practically all low carbon and digital technologies; examples are copper, cobalt and indium. Technology metals are crucial to delivering the UK’s ambition for net zero greenhouse gas emission by 2050 and demand for many of them is increasing rapidly [1,2]. Many technology metals occur as minor but economic components of other ores. For example, copper is a technology metal in its own right, but copper ores are known to contain other technology metals in lesser amounts [3]. In order to understand the potential for sustainable extraction from copper ores, the mineralogy and deportment (location) of technology metals within these ores needs to be determined.

Project Description:

This applied geoscience project will investigate how the mineralogy of technology metals in copper ores affects sustainability of mining and environmentally-friendly minerals processing efficiency. The project will test the following hypotheses: (a) Copper ores formed by different geological processes will have different enrichments of technology metals; (b) Copper-bearing minerals in these ores are the main hosts of technology metals, but other minerals (e.g. zinc-bearing) can also be significant hosts; (c) The technology metal-bearing mineralogy will influence sustainable mining methods and the feasibility of processing to extract these metals.

Stated link to the overarching theme of the CDT. Sustainable Mining and Mineral Extraction.

Details of mapping/fieldwork locations/data to be used by the project and confirmation of access to key data being secured (please attach map as an appendix if relevant):

This project will target copper ores which are relevant to the UK and world-wide. In kind support will be provided by our Partner Companies (e.g., Cornish Tin, Cornwall Resources) and museums

PhD Proposal: GeoNetZero CDT (2022 start) and mineral suppliers globally for sample procurement. The Partner Companies will supply copper ore samples for the student to work on. In fact, we already have a lot of these samples through our other projects (e.g., Met4Tech; We have already signed Material Transfer Agreements with these companies so that we have use of the samples for scientific research, and so we can publish the results. Therefore, the student will have the freedom to publish all data. The work that the student would do is research only and would not give any company a commercial advantage. Open-source mineralogical data from websites (e.g., OSNACA Ore Samples Normalised to Average Crustal Abundance;, journal papers and company reports will be used to understand the UK and world-wide character of copper ores and their included technology metals.

Outline of planned work schedule for the 4-year research period:

To achieve the aim of the study, the following will be conducted:

(1) Datamining (months 0-24). Data on the technology metal mineralogy, geochemistry and genesis of different copper ores will be collected by consulting open-source information from websites, journal papers and company reports. These will be compiled to address hypothesis (a) and to develop an understanding of the types of minerals within these ores that host the technology metals.

(2) Sample procurement (months 0-12). Representative samples of nationally and globally relevant copper ores will be collected by liaising with our Partner Companies, geological museums and reputable mineral specimen suppliers.

(3) Mineralogical analysis of samples (months 6 – 48) by automated scanning electron microscopy (QEMSCAN), electron microprobe chemical analysis and laser ablation ICP-MS geochemical analysis.

(4) Conducting experiments on representative copper ore samples (months 24-48) using sustainable processing methods (bioleaching, green solvents) to determine how the mineralogical deportment of the ores influences the effectiveness and selection of the processing method.

Visit the GeoNETZero CDT website for information about the partnership or contact the CDT manager, Lorna Morrow, on [Email Address Removed]


GeoNetZero CDT studentships are open to UK and Irish nationals who, if successful in their applications, will receive a full studentship including payment of university tuition fees at the home fees rate.

A limited number of full studentships are also available to international students which are defined as EU (excluding Irish nationals), EEA, Swiss and all other non-UK nationals. For further details please see the GeoNetZero CDT website.

Those not meeting the nationality and residency requirements to be treated as a ‘home’ student may apply for a limited number of full studentships for international students. Although international students are usually charged a higher tuition fee rate than ‘home’ students, those international students offered a GeoNetZero Centre for Doctoral Training full studentship starting in 2022 will only be charged the ‘home’ tuition fee rate (which will be covered by the studentship).

International applicants need to be aware that you will have to cover the cost of your student visa, healthcare surcharge and other costs of moving to the UK to do a PhD. More information on this is available from the following link

The conditions for eligibility of home fees status are complex and you will need to seek advice if you have moved to or from the UK (or Republic of Ireland) within the past 3 years or have applied for settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme.

How to apply

Please visit for full details and to submit your application.

Funding Notes

Studentships are fully funded for 4 years and cover tuition fees and stipend at the UK Research & Innovation recommended levels for each year of study. For the 2020/21 academic session, this is £4,327 for fees and £15,609 for stipend.


[1] EC (2018) [2] Arrobas et al (2017) The growing role of minerals and metals for a low carbon future. World Bank Group, Washington, DC. [3] Stergiou et al (2021) Minerals, 11, 630.
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