Sustainable sourcing of platinum-group metal (PGM) from unconventional resources for supply to hydrogen production and fuel cell electric vehicles. NERC GW4+ DTP NPIF studentship Ref: 3176

About the award


Main Supervisor:  Dr Evi Petavratzi British Geological Survey
Co-Supervisor: Dr Alicja Lacinska British Geological Survey
Co-Supervisor:  Dr Hannah Hughes – University of Exeter;
Co-Supervisor: Dr Iain McDonald – Cardiff University

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 further details about the programme please see

The studentships will provide funding for a stipend which is currently £14,553 per annum for 2017-2018, research costs and UK/EU tuition fees at Research Council UK rates for 42 months (3.5 years) for full-time students, pro rata for part-time students. Successful candidates must be able to start their projects in October 2018

Lead Institution:  British Geological Survey

Project Background:
Advances in hydrogen production and fuel cells are vital for the decarbonisation of transport, infrastructure and industry1, as highlighted by the UK Clean Growth Strategy2 and in similar strategies worldwide1,3,4. Concerns about climate change, air pollution and energy security suggest future growth, but uncertainties over prevailing technologies, rate of market penetration and the balance between hydrogen and battery driven technologies make forecasting future raw materials demand difficult.

Platinum-group metals (PGM) are critical raw materials (due to their security of supply primarily from southern Africa and Russia5) with diverse applications ranging from autocatalysts to investment. PGM are essential in electrolysis for hydrogen production and in fuel cells for electric vehicles1. Both processes utilise electrolysers that contain PGM catalysts in higher concentrations than in the catalytic converters in conventional vehicles6. Thus these emerging technologies will require a significant increase in the production (primary or otherwise) of PGM7, whilst also fulfilling sustainability principles to align with the clean growth challenge. This project will explore secondary PGM resources, assess the PGM supply chain and evaluate potential environmental gains associated with their use.

Project Aims and Methods:

This project aims to:

(I) analyse the supply chain for PGM, to understand how the hydrogen and fuel cell transition will influence current and future global demand and supply patterns for PGM and identify supply constraints and opportunities for intervention to mitigate against supply risk and improve sustainability;
(II) investigate the PGM potential of secondary resources by identifying and analysing appropriate sources (primarily mine waste) and;
(III) understand the environmental impacts of PGM mining and the opportunities and challenges associated with the utilisation of secondary resources, especially with regards to waste, energy, water, land use and others.
A material flow analysis (MFA) model describing PGM use in fuel cells and hydrogen production will be developed with the aim of calculating demand for PGM across a range of future consumption scenarios. The analysis will serve to assess the need for additional sources of supply from primary and secondary raw materials. Secondary resource identification and characterisation will focus on tailings from existing PGM and chromite mines. These insights will be used to inform the scenarios of the MFA model. Field studies on known PGM-rich tailings will involve the collection of ‘waste’ samples and geochemical and mineralogical characteristics to determine the concentration of PGM and the processing favourability, economic viability and scalability of these alternative sources for the extraction of PGM.

Figure 1 (below): Simplified value chain for platinum3  

Figure 2 (below): Fuel cell charging station (picture from Johnson Matthey)

First class Honours degree and/or Masters in Geology/Earth Sciences (or equivalent), with demonstrable interest in mineral resources, commodity markets, critical metals, security of supply, industrial ecology and sustainability. The candidate should have excellent communication skills to allow effective interaction with relevant stakeholders from government, industry and academia.


The student will be supported and trained by staff with relevant expertise in:-Modelling and economic analysis: material flow analysis, commodity market studies, foresight analysis (scenario building),

-Geological, mineralogical and geochemical analysis: core logging, ore sampling, bulk geochemical analysis (including NiS fire assay), mineralogical methods including petrography, ore microscopy, scanning electron microscope (SEM), electron microprobe analysis (EMPA) and automated mineralogical techniques including QEMSCAN.
BGS and CSM offer a range of training courses throughout the year that will become available to the student during the course of this studentship. Examples of courses include:
• IT related: ArcGIS10, CorelDraw, programming
• Project management
• Geology, geostatistics, mapping, sampling, time series analysis
• Writing skills, publication workshop, presentation skills, working with the media

References / Background reading list:

[1] Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking (2017). Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Technology: Europe's Journey to a Greener World. 10th Stakeholder Forum. [online] Available at:
[2] HM Government (2017). The Clean Growth Strategy. Leading the way to a low carbon future. [online] Available at:
[3] Agency for Natural Resources and Energy (2016). Strategic Roadmap for Hydrogen and Fuel Cells. Japan. [online] Available at:
[4] U.S. Department of Energy (2011). The Department of Energy Hydrogen and Fuel Cells Program Plan. [online] Available at:
[5] European Commission (2017). Study on the review of the list of Critical Raw Materials. Critical Raw Materials Factsheets. Platinum Group Metals. [online] Available at:
[6] Fuel Cell & Hydrogen Energy Association (2018). Fuel Cell Basics. [online] Available at:
[7] Marscheider-Weidemann, F., Langkau, S., Hummen, T., Erdmann, L., Tercero Espinoza, L., Angerer, G., Marwede, M. and Benecke, S. (2016). Rohstoffe fur Zukunftstechnologien 2016. –
DERA Rohstoffinformationen 28: 353 S., Berlin.

Entry requirements

Applicants should have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK.  Applicants with a Lower Second Class degree will be considered if they also have Master’s degree.  Applicants with a minimum of Upper Second Class degree and significant relevant non-academic experience are encouraged to apply.

All applicants would need to meet our English language requirements by the start of the  project

Applicants who are classed as International for tuition fee purposes are not eligible for funding.

How to apply

In the application process you will be asked to upload several documents.  Please note our preferred format is PDF, each file named with your surname and the name of the document, eg. “Smith – CV.pdf”, “Smith – Cover Letter.pdf”, “Smith – Transcript.pdf”.

•       CV
•       Letter of application outlining your academic interests, prior research experience and reasons for wishing to
        undertake the project.
•       Transcript(s) giving full details of subjects studied and grades/marks obtained. This should be an interim transcript if you are still studying.
•       If you are not a national of a majority English-speaking country you will need to submit evidence of your current proficiency in English.

You will be asked to name 2 referees as part of the application process however we will not contact these people until the shortlisting stage. Your referees should not be from the prospective supervisory team.

The closing date for applications is 23:59 BST on 9 July 2018.  Interviews will be held at the University of Exeter in the following weeks.

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email
General enquiries about undertaking the research with BGS should go to: Jon Naden
Project-specific queries should be directed to the supervisor, Dr Evi Petavratzi -

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.


Application deadline:9th July 2018
Value:£14,553 per annum for 2017-18
Duration of award:per year
Contact: PGR Enquiries