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Understanding and mitigating the environmental impacts of metal ore processing wastes produced using “green” solvents (CENTA2-SGGE9-JENK)

Project Description

Conventional mineral extraction from mined ores (e.g. for metals) is often an energy-intensive process, requiring either smelting or leaching at elevated temperature, or the use of large quantities of strong acids or bases that are energy intensive to produce. Furthermore, some treatments, most notably cyanidation hydrometallurgy, have poor public perception (e.g. residual cyanide trapped in mine tailings as well as being a poison to wildlife can also facilitate the release of toxic metals, such as mercury). Deep eutectic solvents (DES), such as Ethaline (choline chloride + ethylene glycol; Jenkin et al., 2016), provide a “greener” alternative for the extraction of metals from ores with less energy, lower costs and (in principle) fewer environmental impacts. They can also help with the co-extraction of rare e-tech elements such as tellurium (used in solar photovoltaic cells). However, the actual environmental risks associated with waste products from mineral processing using DES have not yet been quantified.

In this project, the impacts of DES-processed ore waste (tailings) on soil function and on the leaching of potentially toxic components to ground and surface waters will be assessed using a combination of manipulative field and lab experiments and numerical modelling. The project will examine the degredation of the organic solvent in the tailings, the mobility of residual metals, the toxicity of residual solvent, its breakdown products, and dissolved metal load to soil function and the potential for ground and surface water pollution. Given the potential surge in DES applications in the minerals processing industry in the near future, the project is likely to have significant and immediate impact and could be used to define industrial best practice.

Entry Requirements:

UK Bachelor Degree with at least 2:1 in a relevant subject or overseas equivalent.

Available for UK and EU applicants only.

Applicants must meet requirements for both academic qualifications and residential eligibility:

How to Apply:

Please follow refer to the How to Apply section at and use the Geography Apply button to submit your PhD application.

Upload your CENTA Studentship Form in the proposal section of the application form.

In the funding section of the application please indicate you wish to be considered for NERC CENTA Studentship.

Under the proposal section please provide the name of the supervisor and project title/project code you want to apply for.

Funding Notes

This project is one of a number of fully funded studentships available to the best UK and EU candidates available as part of the NERC DTP CENTA consortium.

For more details of the CENTA consortium please see the CENTA website: View Website.

Applicants must meet requirements for both academic qualifications and residential eligibility: View Website

The studentship includes a 3.5 year tuition fee waiver at UK/EU rates

An annual tax free stipend (For 2019/20 this is currently £15,009)

Research Training Support Grant (RTSG) of £8,000.


Jenkin, G.R.T. et al. (2016) The application of deep eutectic solvent ionic liquids for environmentally-friendly dissolution and recovery of precious metals. Minerals Engineering 87, 18–24.

Smith, E.L., Ryder, K., Abbott, A. (2015) Deep Eutectic Solvents (DESs) and Their Applications. Chemical Reviews 114, 11060−11082.

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