University of Exeter funding: a new Critical Metal resource

GeoNetZero Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT): UK legacy mine waste: a new Critical Metal resource for the Green Economy? Ref: 3882

About the award


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 University of Exeter’s College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences is inviting applications for a fully-funded PhD studentship to commence in September 2020 or as soon as possible thereafter.  For eligible students the studentship will cover UK tuition fees plus an annual tax-free stipend of at least £15,009 for 4 years full-time, or pro rata for part-time study.

Location: Camborne School of Mines and the Environment & Sustainability Institute, Penryn, Cornwall.

Primary Supervisor:  Dr Rich Crane, Camborne School of Mines, University of Exeter.

Co-supervisor:  Professor Karen Hudson-Edwards, Environment & Sustainability Institute and Camborne School of Mines, University of Exeter.

Co-supervisor:  Richard Shaw, British Geological Survey.

Co-supervisor: Dr Devin Sapsford, School of Engineering, Cardiff University.

Project Description:
There are few locations worldwide where the rich history of metal mining is more evident than in mainland Britain. Mining of major ores for metals fuelled profound societal and industrial change but as a consequence created a significant legacy of waste. In England and Wales alone, it is estimated that there could be 8,000 disused metal mines located in predominately 12 ore-producing regions. The majority of such mines were in peak operation in the 18th to 19th centuries and mine wastes were not subject to modern inventory practices. We currently have very little knowledge of their spatial distribution, composition, and mass. Indeed, all estimates to date have focussed on simply subtracting total final metal tonnage against ore grade: a systematic and comprehensive sampling campaign is yet to be undertaken. Such estimates suggest that there could be as much as 20-60 Gt of metalliferous mine waste in the UK alone.

It has been suggested that a major proportion of such mine waste could contain viable concentrations of Critical Metals (i.e. 27 Critical Metals have been designated by the EU as vitally important for our new Green Economy, yet their supply is currently dominated by one or a few producers).

Such metals could comprise a major untapped resource which if utilised could be vitally important in order to help deliver our Green Technology and thereby tackle the ongoing Climate Emergency. This PhD project will seek to provide this urgently required data by focussing on examining the potential role legacy mine waste could provide as a new Critical Metal “feedstock” for the UK.

  • Aim 1) Identify the most strategically important legacy mine waste deposits in the UK (i.e. those which will likely comprise the most major potential future sources of Critical Metals for the new Green Economy). This will initially comprise a Desk Study, which will likely predominantly comprise the processing of geoscience data from satellite observations, published records, and grey literature. Fieldwork will be conducted at key deposits: their metal content, mineralogical composition, physical structure and chemical composition will be determined. Their co-location with Geological, Ecological and Cultural Designation(s) will also be assessed in order to determine what factors might constrain any future metal recovery activity.
  • Aim 2) Investigate how Critical Metals within UK mine waste can be directly “upcycled” into Green Economy products/materials. This will comprise a literature study followed by empirical experiments in order to identify potential “direct use” of Critical Metals within existing products/materials (e.g. Li2S8 for use in battery technology; nanoscale Cu for CO2 destruction, etc.). This could enable radical improvements in the economic value of UK Critical Metal resources and thereby provide an entirely new driver for their extraction.

The project will benefit from the world-class analytical facilities both at the Camborne School of Mines and the Environment & Sustainability Institute, University of Exeter. Analytical techniques of specific benefit will include: ICP-MS, ICP-OES, IC, XRD, SEM-EDS, QEMSCAN, XRF and pXRF. Primary supervision will be provided by Dr Rich Crane and Professor Karen Hudson-Edwards from the University of Exeter. The student will also benefit from additional supervision from Richard Shaw and colleagues from the British Geological Survey, who will provide access to data and supervise subsequent mine waste resource mapping. This component of the project will also include a placement of three months at the BGS wherein the student will have exclusive access to BGS’ extensive data-holdings and in-house expertise in resource mapping.

Metalifferous mines Figure 1. Location of metalliferous mines in SW England and Wales (produced using BRITPITS database; Licence No. 2014/098BP ED British Geological Survey NERC) along with photographs of mine waste (LHS) and acid mine drainage (RHS) at Parys Mountain, Anglesey, United Kingdom. This project will combine a desk study and fieldwork to map and rank UK mine waste deposits as a function of their viability for Critical Metal recovery.

The studentship will be awarded on the basis of merit for 4 years of full-time study to commence in September 2020.

The studentship period is 4 years in order to accommodate the CDT’s bespoke 20-week residential training programme, attendance on which is a condition of acceptance of a funded CDT studentship.

Funding of tuition fees is at the UK level which currently also applies to EU students but this may change in respect of the later years of study depending on the outcome of Brexit negotiations and the stance adopted by each participating CDT university.  EU and International students are therefore advised to contact the hosting university to check whether additional funding is available to cover the potential difference in fee levels charged to Home and International students before submitting an application.

Visit the GeoNETZero CDT website for information about the partnership or contact the CDT manager, Lorna Morrow, on

Entry requirements

Applicants for this studentship must have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK, in an appropriate area of science or technology.

If English is not your first language you will need to have achieved at least 6.0 in IELTS and no less than 6.0 in any section by the start of the project.  Alternative tests may be acceptable (see /

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
  • Cover letter (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)
  • Two references from referees familiar with your academic work. If your referees prefer, they can email the reference direct to quoting the studentship reference number 3882. 
  • If you are not a national of a majority English-speaking country you will need to submit evidence of your proficiency in English

The closing date for applications is midnight on 31st March 2020.  Interviews are likely to be held between 29 and 30 April 2020.

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email

Project-specific queries should be directed to the main supervisor.

Please quote reference 3882 on your application and in any correspondence about this studentship.


Application deadline:31st March 2020
Number of awards:1
Value:4-year studentship: Tuition fees (UK/EU) and an annual stipend at the national UKRI level
Duration of award:per year
Contact: PGR Admissions Office