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Award details

GeoNetZero Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT): UK Mine waste: a new Critical Metal resource for the Green Economy? Ref: 4398

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: 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.

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. 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 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 mine waste deposits in the UK and EU (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 the published and grey literature. Fieldwork will be conducted at key deposits: their metal  content, mineralogical composition, physical structure and chemical composition will be determined.

Aim 2) Investigate howCritical Metals withinmine waste can be recovered using novel in situ approaches. This will comprise a literature study followed by empirical experiments in order to identify potential novel methodologies to recover metals from mine waste whilst avoiding physical disturbance of the material. This  is critically important because physical excavation is energy intensive and damaging to mine waste repository architecture. Such processes will focus on the novel combination of hydrometallurgy and a targeted electric field in  order to precisely transmit and recover metals from mine waste. Emphasis will also be placed on the application of electrochemistry in order to result in the selective and sequential recovery of metals, and thereby facilitate their direct “upcycling” into high value products.


Location of metalliferous mines in SW England and Wales

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.

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.

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 4398 on your application and in any correspondence about this studentship.


Application deadline:18th February 2022
Number of awards:1
Value:4-year studentship: Tuition fees (UK) and an annual stipend at the national UKRI level
Duration of award:per year
Contact: PGR Admissions Team