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Award details

GeoNetZero Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT): Mineralogical Controls on Technology Metals in Copper Ores: Resource Potential, Sustainable Mining and Processing Feasibility in the UK. Ref: 4397

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 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.

Location: , University of Exeter, Penryn Campus, Cornwall.

Primary Supervisor: Prof Karen Hudson-Edwards, College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences, Camborne School of Mines, University of Exeter, Penryn Campus, Cornwall.

Secondary Supervisors: Dr Hannah Hughes, College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences, Camborne School of Mines, University of Exeter, Penryn Campus, Cornwall.

Copper Background:

Technology metals are the specialist constituent metals essential for practically all low carbon and digital technologies; examples are copper, cobalt and indium. Technology metals are crucial to delivering the UK’s ambition for net zero greenhouse gas emission by 2050 and demand for many of them is increasing rapidly [1,2]. Many technology metals occur as minor but economic components of other ores. For example, copper is a technology metal in its own right, but copper ores are known to contain other technology metals in lesser amounts [3]. In order to understand the potential for sustainable extraction from copper ores, the mineralogy and deportment (location) of technology metals within these ores needs to be determined.

Project Description:

This applied geoscience project will investigate how the mineralogy of technology metals in copper ores affects sustainability of mining and environmentally-friendly minerals processing efficiency. The project will test the following hypotheses: (a) Copper ores formed by different geological processes will have different enrichments of technology metals; (b) Copper-bearing minerals in these ores are the main hosts of technology metals, but other minerals (e.g. zinc-bearing) can also be significant hosts; (c) The technology metal-bearing mineralogy will influence sustainable mining methods and the feasibility of processing to extract these metals.

Stated link to the overarching theme of the CDT. Sustainable Mining and Mineral Extraction.

Details of mapping/fieldwork locations/data to be used by the project and confirmation of access to key data being secured (please attach map as an appendix if relevant):

This project will target copper ores which are relevant to the UK and world-wide. In kind support will be provided by our Partner Companies (e.g., Cornish Tin, Cornwall Resources) and museums

PhD Proposal: GeoNetZero CDT (2022 start) and mineral suppliers globally for sample procurement. The Partner Companies will supply copper ore samples for the student to work on. In fact, we already have a lot of these samples through our other projects (e.g., Met4Tech; We have already signed Material Transfer Agreements with these companies so that we have use of the samples for scientific research, and so we can publish the results. Therefore, the student will have the freedom to publish all data. The work that the student would do is research only and would not give any company a commercial advantage. Open-source mineralogical data from websites (e.g., OSNACA Ore Samples Normalised to Average Crustal Abundance;, journal papers and company reports will be used to understand the UK and world-wide character of copper ores and their included technology metals.

Outline of planned work schedule for the 4-year research period:

To achieve the aim of the study, the following will be conducted:

(1) Datamining (months 0-24). Data on the technology metal mineralogy, geochemistry and genesis of different copper ores will be collected by consulting open-source information from websites, journal papers and company reports. These will be compiled to address hypothesis (a) and to develop an understanding of the types of minerals within these ores that host the technology metals.

(2) Sample procurement (months 0-12). Representative samples of nationally and globally relevant copper ores will be collected by liaising with our Partner Companies, geological museums and reputable mineral specimen suppliers.

(3) Mineralogical analysis of samples (months 6 – 48) by automated scanning electron microscopy (QEMSCAN), electron microprobe chemical analysis and laser ablation ICP-MS geochemical analysis.

(4) Conducting experiments on representative copper ore samples (months 24-48) using sustainable processing methods (bioleaching, green solvents) to determine how the mineralogical deportment of the ores influences the effectiveness and selection of the processing method.

Any Additional Research Costs: Not beyond the £20k RTSG.

Supervisory arrangements and involvement of external partners.

The student will be supervised by experts in mineralogy and sustainable mining (Hudson-Edwards) and ore geology and geochemistry (Hughes), and will be part of the EM3 research group within Camborne School of Mines. The student will have access to a wealth of training opportunities from the University of Exeter’s Researcher Development Programme, and through the UKRI-funded Met4Tech Technology Metal Circular Economy Centre at the University of Exeter.


[1] EC (2018) [2] Arrobas et al (2017) The growing role of minerals and metals for a low carbon future. World Bank Group, Washington, DC. [3] Stergiou et al (2021) Minerals, 11, 630.

Likely graduate career routes:

Multiple: mining industry, environmental industry, academia, public sector.

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


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.


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

The conditions for eligibility of home fees status are complex and you will need to seek advice if you have moved to or from the UK (or Republic of Ireland) within the past 3 years or have applied for settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme.

Entry requirements

You should have or expect to achieve at least a 2:1 Honours degree, or equivalent, in a relevant science subject.  Experience in pertinent research areas is desirable.

If English is not your first language you will need to meet the English language requirements and provide proof of proficiency.  For more information and a list of acceptable alternative tests please see

How to apply

You will be asked to submit some personal details and upload a full CV, covering letter and details of two academic referees. Your covering letter should outline your academic interests, prior research experience and reasons for wishing to undertake this project.

Please quote reference 4397 on your application and in any correspondence about this studentship.


Application deadline:18th February 2022
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 Team