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GeoNetZero Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT): Developing new mineralogical and geochemical assessment tools for stream sediments and soils to support exploration for Li, Sn and W in SW England

   College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences

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  Dr B Williamson, Dr Benedikt Steiner  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.

The CDT's academic partners have 17 fully-funded positions PhD available to commence in early October 2020. Studentships are for 4 years, provide funding for tuition fees and stipend at the national UK Research & Innovation (UKRI) level and a generous £5k per annum Research Training & Support Grant (RTSG) allowance.

Project Description:

The UK government’s target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 will require huge quantities of ‘critical’ raw materials which are economically important, including for the production of green technology devices (e.g. wind turbines and electric vehicles), but which may be subject to supply risks. These include Li, mainly used in electric vehicle batteries and W for high strength alloys and cutting tools (European Commission, 2020). Not officially ‘critical’, but of medium criticality, is Sn which is used in solder and for plating. Supplies of these metals to the EU by certain major producers such as Chile (Li) and China (Li, Sn and W) could be restricted at relatively short notice.

The SW England Cornubian granite batholith and world class ore field has long been mined for Sn and W and hosts one of the largest Li resources in Europe (Gourcerol et al., 2019). There is no current production of these metals but there are mines in development for Sn and W and active exploration for all three metals. Such exploration is hampered by poor inland exposure and sometimes thick overburden. The further discovery and working of UK deposits of Li, Sn and W will ensure low risk supplies of environmentally and ethically sourced “green technology” raw materials to domestic manufacturing.

Aims and objectives of the study:

The aim is to establish and trial improved exploration methodologies for Li, Sn and W in SW England. This will be addressed by developing bespoke QEMSCAN® automated mineralogical analysis methodologies for soil and stream sediment samples, to use these to access the mineralogy of G-Base and newly collected materials from sites of potential Li, Sn and W mineralisation in SW England, and to compare the results with new whole-sample major and trace element data (including for Li).

For an introduction to the use of QEMSCAN® on stream sediment samples see Steiner et al. (2019). Open access to the results will ensure direct benefits to local exploration companies. The project will be underpinned by data and samples from the BGS’s Geochemical Baseline Survey of the Environment (G-BASE) which mapped the geochemical compositions of soils and stream sediments and associated heavy mineral separates across SW England (British Geological Survey, 2016). A wide range of other resources are also available for SW England including geological, published datasets, remote sensing data and imagery, land use maps, mine records, and data and maps in published papers (e.g. Yeomans et al., 2020).

Provisional schedule for the study:

Months 1-2: Familiarisation with relevant literature, data sources, software, protocols for sample collection and analysis, and initial engagement with exploration companies in SW England.

Months 3-14: Use spatial and statistical analysis software, including ArcGIS and ioGASTM, to interrogate existing data to select areas for ‘infill’ soil and stream sediment sampling. Analyse G-BASE soil and stream sediment samples from selected areas for Li and prepare G-BASE samples for automated mineralogical analysis.

Months 15-28: Liaise with exploration companies for feedback on the initial results, draft a manuscript for journal submission and present the findings at a UK and international conference. ‘Infill’ sample soils and stream sediments within selected areas. Analyse newly collected samples by ICP-MS and QEMSCAN®.

Months 29-48: Interrogate gathered data to create test-bed prospectivity maps. Liaise with exploration companies in SW England for feedback and present the findings at UK and international conferences. Draft a manuscript from the results and write and submit thesis.

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

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.
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