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£2.6 Million Centre to Train Mineral Resources Experts for a New Generation

A new generation of mineral resource experts to enable the United Kingdom’s transition to sustainable energy are to be trained by a consortium representing academia and industry, led by the University of Leicester.

Image Credit: University of Leicester

The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), part of UK Research and Innovation, have announced £2.6 million to support a multi-institution centre for doctoral training, the Training and Research Group for Energy Transition Mineral Resources (TARGET), to address the skills and research needs for the UK.

It is one of four new Natural Environment Research Council-funded centres that will teach the next generation of PhD students who will go on to build careers in research, business and public service.

Each year, over 3 billion tonnes of metals are produced from mineral resources. Mineral resources underpin society – without them we would have no infrastructure, no industry and no technology.

The UK’s transition to renewable energy generation and use – through wind turbines, solar panels and electric vehicles for example – is increasing the demand for mineral resources. Some of them are considered ‘critical’ – economically important but with challenged supply chains that are vulnerable to disruption. Growing expertise in critical mineral resources will help to develop secure and sustainable supply.

The TARGET centre is a UK wide group of universities, research organisations and industrial partners, led by the University of Leicester’s Centre for Sustainable Resource Extraction that will provide doctoral-level training in the full lifecycle of minerals from sector leaders. 

TARGET’s leader Dr Dan Smith, from the University of Leicester School of Geography, Geology and the Environment, said: “TARGET is a really exciting opportunity for us to train a next generation of researchers with the skills they need to tackle some of the biggest challenges in mineral resources: how do they form? How can we find the raw materials we need? How can we process and extract them efficiently, and how can we be more sustainable whilst doing so?

“It’s not just about getting more resources either. We know we need more careful stewardship of the resources we do have – considering circular economy models, better waste management, and more efficient use of mineral products.”

The TARGET Centre will combine PhD research projects with a multidisciplinary training programme that will provide skills in mineral exploration, processing, finance, policy and sustainability at all stages of a mineral’s use – from a rock in the ground to the end of a product’s useful life. TARGET’s training will be led by a mix of academic researchers and industry practitioners, and the parentship of the centre includes some of the most important global companies in mining, mineral analysis, environmental standards, and finance.

TARGET will operate alongside other UKRI programmes, including the £15 million CLIMATES programme being delivered by Innovate UK, boosting rare earth circularity, to provide opportunities for UK industry and research to enhance the responsible supply of minerals.

Science, Research and Innovation Minister, Andrew Griffith, said: “Backing our brightest students to tackle issues as vital as flooding and protecting our water quality is an investment in protecting the landscape of the UK, while defending our planet and the resources we need to deliver us all healthier and more prosperous lives.

“With more than £10m in funding over the coming years it will also help to skill-up students in high-value research, which will grow the UK economy and ensure we fulfil the potential of the talent spread throughout our country.”

Professor Peter Liss, Interim Executive Chair of NERC, said: “This investment by NERC will equip the next generation of environmental science researchers with the technical and professional skills to tackle some of the most significant challenges facing the UK and globally. 

“The new centres for doctoral training will focus on the key themes of flood management, freshwater quality, sustainable mineral resources and wetland conservation.”

  • TARGET is recruiting its first cohort of researchers to start in October 2024, for more information or to apply visit:
  • TARGET partners are University of Leicester, Cardiff University, University of Exeter, Natural History Museum, Imperial College, the British Geological Survey, the Geological Survey of Northern Ireland, University of Liverpool, University of Leeds, Brighton University, St Andrews University, University College London, University of Aberdeen, the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre, University of Southampton and University of Edinburgh.

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