Indium from source to sink: Mechanisms of fractionation within the crust and surface environment

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Camborne School of Mines

Abstract

Indium is a rare, post-transition metal that is widely used in modern technological applications such as liquid crystal displays and photovoltaic solar panels. It is one of a number of so-called "e-tech" elements whose supply is considered to be insecure.

Currently very little information exists on the behaviour of indium in geological and environmental systems. The lack of background data inhibits the development of an understanding of the fractionation mechanisms of the metal in geological systems and the natural environment. Little is known about the general background concentrations in different geological terranes, the conditions that lead to ore formation, the metal fluxes into the environment, the environmental sinks and reservoirs, and the bioavailability and ecotoxicity of the metal. This lack of knowledge represents a major impediment to the effective prospecting and extraction of indium.

This project will identify and address the principal gaps in our knowledge of the geology, extraction and environmental dispersal of indium. The ultimate goal is to facilitate the development of robust models for the geological reservoirs of indium, to establish the principal transfer mechanisms between these reservoirs, and to enable for assessments of environmental risks, pathways and sinks.

Planned Impact

Catalyst proposal
The most significant impact of this catalyst study will be the development of an international forum for critical metals research, the development of a common framework for indium analysis and for the collection of indium data from geological and environmental materials. The catalyst grant will be the first step towards building a strategy for the diversification of the indium resource base and the stabilization of market prices.

Full proposal
The evidence collected through the full proposal will allow for the development of predictive strategies for indium exploration and facilitate predictions of environmental effects. An ultimate goal of the research will be to stabilize the market for indium with a diverse and predictable global production base. A stable global market will benefit low-carbon policy makers as well as solar panel and flat screen manufacturers.
A particular aspiration will be to stimulate exploration activities in Southwest UK and Wales and in this way to contribute to the revival of mining, regional economic development and wealth creation in economically disadvantaged regions. The development of UK (or EU) based resources is critical to gain independence of a strongly fluctuating supply market.
The research will also lead to the development of a national environmental baseline study of natural background concentrations, reservoirs, pathways and risks associated with the dispersion of indium from mine waste. This will allow for the development of appropriate measures to improve environmental safety and mitigate risks. The pathways to impact are designed to facilitate that within and beyond the life cycle of the project.

As the project progresses, activities will be communicated through workshops, international networking activities, and a dedicated website with a cascading structure and blog. Engagement with the wider community will be actively sought through networking activities. Scientific results will be communicated through leading international journals and data offered for incorporation into national and international geochemical databases (such as G-BASE and GEMAS).
 
Description We discovered that indium is extremely poorly understood in natural systems. The lack of information strongly limits our ability to predict the mechanisms of concentration and dispersal in geological systems as well as the environment. It is also unknown if the metal poses any risk to the health and well-being of biological organisms including humans
Exploitation Route The team was not expected to carry out original research during the catalyst grant, but it forms the basis for a NERC SoS consortium bid which is currently under consideration
Sectors Electronics,Environment,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology

 
Description The activities developed in this project has led to the generation of a new focus in special interest groups (such as IAGOD). The group has been approached for interviews with international, national and regional media to inform about the potential effects of extraction and environmental distribution of indium.
First Year Of Impact 2013
Sector Environment
 
Description Horizon 2020
Amount € 7,458,066 (EUR)
Funding ID 641650 
Organisation European Commission 
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 04/2015 
End 03/2019
 
Description Bilateral collaboration with Harvard and Princeton Universities 
Organisation Harvard University
Department Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Network development on indium in the environment
Collaborator Contribution Invited speaker at indium Symposium, Sep 2013. Contribution toward review paper for submission in Earth Science Reviews or equivalent journal (currently in preparation).
Impact Expected joint publication
Start Year 2013
 
Description Bilateral collaboration with Harvard and Princeton Universities 
Organisation Princeton University
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Network development on indium in the environment
Collaborator Contribution Invited speaker at indium Symposium, Sep 2013. Contribution toward review paper for submission in Earth Science Reviews or equivalent journal (currently in preparation).
Impact Expected joint publication
Start Year 2013
 
Description Collaboration with CDC/NIOSH 
Organisation Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Department National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH)
Country United States 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Production of draft review manuscript on the geological fractionation of Indium
Collaborator Contribution Invited expert at symposium organised under this grant, contributions to review manuscript (currently in preparation)
Impact Conference presentation to project investigators and partners, expected future collaborations on research publications and joint activities
Start Year 2013
 
Description Collaboration with Geoforschungszentrum Potsdam 
Organisation Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres
Department German Research Centre for Geosciences
Country Germany 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Bilateral agreement for analytical work
Collaborator Contribution Bilateral agreement for analytical work
Impact No outputs yet
Start Year 2013
 
Description British Council Researcher Links Programme, Kazakhstan 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Participants in your research and patient groups
Results and Impact Organisation and delivery of workshop for young researchers including the delivery of presentations, engagement activities and chairing of discussion panels

Significant linkages with staff and students at academic and governmental institutions in Kazakhstan aimed toward developing the standard of geoscience education and research as integral components of an evolving state.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Charing of special session at the 14th IAGOD meeting, 2014 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A full day special session at international conference with >500 participants. The session attracted 19 presentations and an audience of >50 delegates.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://iagod.org/node/21
 
Description Eurogranites 2014 field meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The Eurogranites field meeting was organised in July 2014 for 35 delegates. The field meetings are international scientific workshops that aim to stimulate discussion on the origin and evolution of granites and granite related mineral deposits in the field. The meetings take place at different localities around Europe and neighbouring countries on an annual basis.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description GAIN workshop, Meissen, Germany 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Three presentations from our team were presented and generated significant interest in the development of a research partnership

The presentations were directly contributing to the successful funding of the Horizon 2020 project "FAME", listed separately
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description GAIN workshop, NHM, London 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presentation of research aims and previous results generated strong interest with respect to extraction

The meeting, and subsequent meetings have led to funding of the EU Horizon 2020 project "FAME - flexible and mobile economic processing technologies"
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description IAGOD WGCM 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Participants in your research and patient groups
Results and Impact Establishment of the first international working group on the geology of critical metals under a recognised learned society.

The IAGOD working group has attracted more than 100 members in 21 countries. The group has organised a special scientific session and field trip at the 142th Quadriennial IAGOD meeting in Kunming, China; held two business meetings, and sponsored to one additional international conference.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
URL http://www.iagod.org/node/17#wgcm
 
Description Indium workshop, Sep 2013 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The workshop had around 25 delegates from academia, industry and governmental institutions. Presentations included aspects of geology, geochemistry, environmental science, and medical science. Discussions led to the establishment of strong international links, and the associated field excursions to showcase the significance of historical mining activities for the dispersion of indium and associated metals into the environment.

The workshop led to strong engagement with partners in Germany and the USA. This led to two invited presentations for the "GAIN" project funded by the German Ministry of Education and Research; and ultimately led to the development of a successful EU Horizon 2020 bid for EUR7.4 million ("FAME".
The links developed through the project led to the establishment of an international research network that will be used to drive research proposals, further international meetings, and foster industry links.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
URL http://www.indiumresearch.com
 
Description Invited keynote presentation, Irish Association for Economic Geology 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Invited keynote presentation at annual meeting
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.iaeg.org/
 
Description MDSG 2014 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Participants in your research and patient groups
Results and Impact One oral presentation sparked interest and resulted in discussions for future funding arrangements

Development of strong international team toward a EU Horizon 2020 application
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description MINE Magazine interview and feature, July 2015 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Follow on interviews and media coverage related to EU H2020 FAME project (which was a result of networking during the NERC catalyst period).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.nridigital.com/mine-digital-magazine/july-2015.html
 
Description Ussher Society meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity Scientific meeting (conference/symposium etc.)
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Type Of Presentation paper presentation
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Participants in your research and patient groups
Results and Impact Three presentations by the group sparked discussion about the potential of future mineral extraction activities in the region

The presentations encouraged participants to consider that mining is not simply a business of the past in SW England, but that future developments of the low-carbon economy may have the potential to generate environmentally friendly mining activities in the future
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014