Europe's Cobalt Resource Potential for Supply to Low Carbon Vehicles (BGS) - Mining & Minerals Engineering, PhD (NERC GW4+ Funded) Ref: 2980

About the award

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the NERC Great Western Four+ Doctoral Training Partnership (GW4+ DTP).  The GW4+ DTP consists of the Great Western Four alliance of the University of Bath, University of Bristol, Cardiff University and the University of Exeter plus six Research Organisation partners:  British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, the Met Office, the Natural History Museum and Plymouth Marine Laboratory.  The partnership aims to provide a broad training in earth and environmental sciences, designed to train tomorrow’s leaders in earth and environmental science. For this particular project you will be registered at the University for the purposes of obtaining your PhD. However, the majority of your research will be conducted in the offices of the British Geological Survey Keyworth under the supervision of Dr Evi Petavratzi.

Dr Evi Petavratzi, BGS
Professor Frances Wall, UoE

Penryn Campus, Cornwall & British Geological Survey, Keyworth

Project Description
Several metals, including lithium, cobalt, nickel and manganese, are used in batteries for electric vehicles (EV). A 55% increase in EV sales was documented in 2016, which is twenty times greater than for ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicles. At the same time many countries intend to reduce or ban petrol/diesel vehicles in the future [2,3,4]. Cobalt has various important industrial applications[5], but the demand for cobalt in EV batteries is expected to grow exponentially in the future (Figure 1). Nearly two thirds of world mine production is from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), with only 1% from the EU [6]. Cobalt is a critical metal [7], a by-product and its extraction is linked with human rights' abuses [8]. Political uncertainties in the DRC, Europe's high import reliance and the requirement to procure cobalt from environmentally and socially sustainable sources highlights the urgent need for supply diversification to ensure security of supply. This project will address this issue through the study of 'unconventional' sources of cobalt, from geological environments such as shales and from 'waste' streams such as tailings and slags.

This project aims to: (I) analyse the supply chain for cobalt in Europe, to understand the current and future global demand and supply patterns and to identify supply constraints and opportunities for intervention; (II) identify the cobalt resource potential of Europe by investigating appropriate geological environments and 'novel' resources (e.g. mine waste and secondary raw materials).

A dynamic material flow analysis (MFA) model for cobalt in Europe following a whole life approach will be developed. This will allow the 'mapping' of current stocks and flows, and also for the future based on scenario building and analysis of demand changes. It will serve to identify the need for additional sources of supply from primary and secondary raw materials.

The geological studies will initially focus on the potential for cobalt production from nickel-copper sulphide and sediment-hosted copper deposits. Cobalt occurrences in other geological environments (e.g. shales) and from novel sources (e.g. copper slags) will be reviewed to determine their resource potential. These insights will be used to inform the scenarios of the MFA model.

Field studies on selected targets will include the collection of rock, drillcore and 'waste' samples for geochemical and mineralogical studies to determine the abundance and distribution of cobalt. This will provide a basis for determining their favourability as sources of cobalt for the European EV battery sector. Field areas in Finland, Poland and possibly elsewhere in Europe will be studied.

The project would suit a student with a first degree and/or Masters in geology, with clear emphasis on mineral resources and sustainability. Demonstrable interest in mineral resources, commodity markets, critical metals, security of supply and industrial ecology. The candidate should have excellent communication skills to allow effective interaction with relevant stakeholders from government, industry and academia.

For further details about the programme please see and and


Application deadline:7th January 2018
Number of awards:3
Value:Stipend of £14,553 per annum, research costs and UK/EU tuition fees for 3.5 years. BGS will provide an additional up to £6,250 for travel between Keyworth and Penryn
Duration of award:per year
Contact: Doctoral

How to apply

To apply for this BGS-hosted PhD click the button above which leads to the University of Exeter online application system,  plus send (by email) the following:

  • Covering letter
  • CV (with two academic references)
  • Personal statement written by the candidate; no longer than 1 page of A4, containing project title and detailing their reasons for applying to study a PhD and why they have selected their chosen doctoral research project


Deadline for applications is the 7th Jan 2017

Interviews are due to take place between the 5th and 16th of February.


During the application process, the University may need to make certain disclosures of your personal data to third parties to be able to administer your application, carry out interviews and select candidates.  These are not limited to, but may include disclosures to:
• the selection panel and/or management board or equivalent of the relevant programme, which is likely to include staff from one or more other HEIs;
• administrative staff at one or more other HEIs participating in the relevant programme.
Such disclosures will always be kept to the minimum amount of personal data required for the specific purpose. Your sensitive personal data (relating to disability and race/ethnicity) will not be disclosed without your explicit consent.