Natural Enrichments in E-tech Elements (Co, Ga, In, Te, Li, REE) [NEETE].

Lead Research Organisation: University of Southampton
Department Name: School of Ocean and Earth Science


Concentrations of E-tech elements, essential for a technologically advanced and low carbon society, are the direct result of natural Earth processes. These processes operate from the Earth's Mantle to the near surface Critical Zone of biological activity and weathering, and involve geofluids such as magmas, brines, seawater, and groundwaters as the key agents of transport. These Earth processes have been the subject of substantive research, but with a focus on the formation of the widely utilised base, ferrous and non-ferrous metal resources (e.g. Cu, Fe, Zn, Al). In stark contrast, our understanding of the transport and concentration of E-tech elements during these fundamental Earth processes is limited.

This NEETE catalyst grant brings forward a multidisciplinary team of internationally recognized researchers based in leading UK academic institutes: Roberts (Southampton), Armstrong (NHM), Banks (Leeds), Herrington (NHM), Kirk (Loughborough), Stackhouse (Leeds) Wilkinson (Imperial) and Yardley (Leeds) have unrivaled expertise on the transport and concentration of metals in the Earth System [see Track Record and CV's]. This team is supported by major UK based mining companies Anglo American & Rio Tinto and academic partners from leading research institutes from around the world including the Arc Centre of Excellence in Ore Deposits - CODES - Tasmania and the Helmholtz Institute Frieberg. These strategic partners will provide an applied focus, advice on viable study sites, and support the development of a science plan and full grant proposal, that can deliver a step change in our understanding of the source, transport, concentration and ultimate recovery of a selection of E-tech elements.

In the first instance the research team will investigate 6 E-techs ( Co, Ga, In, Te, Li, REE) in three contrasting geological environments. The range of E-techs considered reflects their co-location in many geological environments e.g. Co, Ga in laterites, thus enabling the catalyst grant the scope to identify priority areas and knowledge gaps where a maximum return on scientific investment can be achieved. The chosen geological environments also reflect the underlying geological processes and the opportunities for "reverse engineering" from the geological to industrial recovery environments. The key geological environments recognized include: 1) The Critical zone (Co, Ga, REE): 2. Crustal Brines (Li, V, Co, In, Ga, REE): 3. Magmas and Magmatic Fluids (Li, V, Co, In, REE).

The catalyst grant will support a 3-day Sandpit event, "E-techs from Ore to Door" aimed at initiating a collaborative research project addressing the key challenges of E-tech formation and recovery. The sandpit will comprise a multidisciplinary mix of active researchers and potential users of research outcomes and bring together a research community, dramatically expanded beyond the normal, confines of ore deposit geology. The mix of expertise will ensure an expanded research vision with supporting partners who also have a track record of research excellence and outputs in a near industry environment. The Sandpit will be convened in a location suitable for a field excursion so that all participants can begin to appreciate the formation, exploration and exploitation of E-tech elements in a given environment. The aim of the sandpit will be to achieve 1) a consensus on the key scientific challenges and drive lateral thinking and radical approaches to addressing the challenges. 2) recognize and build cross disciplinary teams to address these challenges. 3) Identify the role of international collaborators; 4) identify co-ordinators to deliver each part of a full research proposal. Following the sandpit meeting a two writing workshops each of two days duration will be convened to draft a full research proposal.

Planned Impact

E-tech elements play a fundamental role in green technologies and are significant bi-products of many existing mining operations. This research will generate new knowledge on the formation and recovery of E-tech elements in a variety of geological environments the extraction of which is essential for sustaining the advanced and developing economies of the world. The current increased usage of green technologies brings the impact of this research into sharper focus than ever before. In particular, the controls on the E-tech elements is now of significant commercial interest which directly impacts on the financial viability of the industrial extraction. Consequently the research we propose brings forward new information which directly affects the commercial viability of these systems.

Particular impacts recognized include:

1) Academia - new knowledge developed within the catalyst grant and full proposal will enable the generation and testing of new hypothesis and a step change in our understanding of the formation and transport of E-tech elements in key geological environments.

2) Industry - The catalyst and subsequent full proposal will maintain a near industry focus which aims to produce new knowledge to impact key areas of industrial activity including a) Mineral Exploration and b) Minesite recovery and beneficiation of E-tech Elements

3) Government Policy - The data acquired through this grant and proposal will produce new information on residence of E-tech element in key environments and the likelihood of enhanced extraction. This will directly inform government policy regarding future security and supply of key metals, and appropriate environmental strategies to ensure the most benign extraction and recovery.

4) Public - Using a variety of media, the public will be informed as to the role and importance of E-tech metals to society and the prevailing source and recovery challenges of these elements.


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Description This grant investigated the location of E-tech elements in the Natural Environment. It provided the basic information for a full grant proposal to NERC SoS Minerals
Exploitation Route These findings provided the basis for a NERC SoS Minerals Full Grant Proposal
Sectors Environment

URL http://
Description Provided the basic material for a full grant proposal to SoS minerals
First Year Of Impact 2013
Sector Environment
Impact Types Societal,Economic

Description NERC SoS Minerals
Amount £200,000 (GBP)
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK)
Start 05/2015 
End 08/2019