Processes governing semi-metal - PGE linkage in crustal magmatic systems: opportunities for discovery and recovery

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leicester
Department Name: Geology

Abstract

A low carbon future for the UK depends on new and evolving technologies such as solar power and hydrogen fuel cells; these in turn are reliant on rare raw materials previously only mined in small quantities such as tellurium (Te), selenium (Se) and platinum group elements (PGE) - so called "E-tech" elements. However, at present there is considerable risk of supply shortages as the PGE can currently only be mined economically in a few countries; Te and Se are by-products of other commodities and supply risk is compounded by the historical lack of demand and an informal market ill-prepared for the predicted demand surge. Our research will tackle the security of supply of these E-tech elements by improving: i) our understanding of the processes that govern how and where these elements are concentrated in the Earth's crust; and ii) our ability to recover them with minimal environmental impact and economic cost.

To do this we are taking advantage of their behaviour in the crust - the PGE are sulphur-loving, so readily concentrate in sulphide melts in magma bodies and form minerals with sulphur, whereas Se and Te also concentrate in sulphide melts, but become sulphur-replacers in minerals. Thus their behaviour and occurrence in natural systems are strongly controlled by the same processes; in fact Te and Se may be as important as sulphur in determining PGE behaviour, which leads to differences in the actual mineralogy of the ores. This then affects how they can be best processed in order to minimise energy usage and environmental impact.

We propose to bring together researchers and industrial partners from academia, mining, mineral exploration, processing, solar panel production and fuel cell design, with the driving principle that better understanding the linkage between semi-metals and PGE in magmas will:

a) provide new insight into the key processes that determine the cycling and concentration of Te, Se and PGEs in and through crustal systems;

b) better quantify crustal fluxes and processes affecting sulphur (fractionation, contamination, melt immiscibility and volatile loss) and the related sulphur-loving elements;

c) enable the development of existing and novel ore processing techniques to improve recovery of combined semi-metal and PGE, whilst mitigating the environmental footprint of extraction and processing.

Planned Impact

Our research covers three main areas in terms of impact, outside of the scientific community. These can be summarised within the 'discovery', 'recovery', and 'end user' categories.

In terms of discovery, future supply of PGEs are threatened by the limited geographical occurrence of economic deposits, with around 90% of production coming from South Africa, Russia and Zimbabwe, whereas Se and Te are limited to recovery as minor by-products of other commodities (chiefly copper porphyries), and are not explicit exploration targets. Both element groups have low crustal abundances, further complicating their discovery.

In terms of recovery, around 3% of the world's energy (up to 7% in Australia, and over 10% in Chile) is used in the extraction and processing of rocks. Any advances in geometallurgical understanding can have significant cost and energy savings in mineral processing.

In terms of end use, the semi metals Te and Se, and the PGE are vital for sustaining and building low carbon energy and transport infrastructure. Primary end-users of Te, Se and PGE are the producers of photovoltaic cells and automotive catalytic convertors and fuel cells. These end-users are the ultimate target of the Security of Supply initiative.

Therefore, the main beneficiaries of this research will be:

1. Companies currently exploring for PGE and/or semi metal ores.
This research will provide information on: (1) the occurrence of PGEs and semi-metals in crustal systems; (2) the distribution and preferred concentration of those elements within minerals as framework and substitution elements; and (3) process-based predictive models for the discovery of prospects for the mining of PGE and semi-metals on a wide geographical basis. Sound scientific understanding of the natural deposits of these resources is essential in developing sustainable supply through the discovery of new deposits and cost and energy efficient exploration

2. Mining companies currently extracting and processing PGE and/or semi metal ores.
In helping to identify key metallurgical characteristics of these platinum ores, the research directly impacts on recovery and processing strategies, and contributes towards enhancing the efficiency, performance and economic prosperity of the companies involved. By enhancing efficiency, this also reduces the environmental impact of mineral processing in terms of energy, resources and costs. Furthermore, the development of novel extraction methods, such as non-hydrous ionic liquids helps to reduce carbon emissions (embedded within pyrometallurgical processing such as smelting) and water usage (embedded within hydrometallurgical processing such as cyanidation/solvent-extraction electro-winning)

3. Companies that refine and market the PGE, Te and Se for green energy end-products
Potential impacts to end-users are that future supply issues are eased; processing can be designed to deliver product in the most amenable form and most efficient manner to end-users; and that networks with producers (from Discovery and Recovery) are built and facilitate knowledge exchange regarding projections of supply and demand.

We will ensure impact is delivered across these groups during the catalyst by using the Environmental Sustainability KTN, trade associations (such as the British Photovoltaic Association and the Selenium-Tellurium Development Association) and topical publications (e.g. Metal Bulletin, Mining Magazine, Platinum Metals Review) to disseminate review articles, invite additional partners and promote awareness of the SoS initiative. We plan to work closely with organisations such as the Mineral Industry Research Organisation and AMIRA International, collaborative research and technological development facilitators that will expand the range of links between our consortium and industrial partners.

Publications

10 25 50

 
Description Activities within this Catalyst Grant have identified major knowledge gaps in the scientific and industrial communities' understanding of natural cycling of Te and Se, their recovery from mineral deposits, and future strategies for dealing with rapidly increasing demand.
Exploitation Route Catalyst activities have led to the formation of a multidicsiplinary consortium (academia, public sector and industry) and a formal bid to NERC for further funding. We intend to maintain networking activities for other engaged (but funding-ineligibile) parties.
Sectors Chemicals,Energy,Environment,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Other

URL https://connect.innovateuk.org/gl/web/semi-metal-pge-linkage
 
Description The Catalyst grant was largely a fact-finding initiative, rather than a grant which was designed to produce impact. Nevertheless, we have a number of industrial partners who are interested in increasing / starting production of Te and Se from their operations. Collaborations built within this catalyst activity have resulted in the ongoing successful TeaSe project, which has produced over 40 publications and a global reach in terms of partnerships and engagement activities.
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Chemicals,Electronics,Energy,Environment,Other
Impact Types Societal,Economic,Policy & public services

 
Description MSCA-ITN-ETN - European Training Networks
Amount € 3,858,940 (EUR)
Funding ID 721385 
Organisation European Union 
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 09/2016 
End 08/2020
 
Description NERC Highlight Topics
Amount £3,000,000 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/P017053/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 05/2017 
End 04/2021
 
Description 5N Plus 
Organisation 5N Plus (UK)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution PhD project studying solubilisation of telluride compounds including recycling of CdTe waste (discarded solar panels)
Collaborator Contribution Samples, data, financial support for PhD student.
Impact PhD ongoing
Start Year 2015
 
Description ASARCO 
Organisation ASARCO LLC
Country United States 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Data analysis, geometallurgical information
Collaborator Contribution Supported visiting student with logistics, shipped samples.
Impact Co-authored manuscript in preparation. Information fed back to mineral processing team
Start Year 2014
 
Description First Solar 
Organisation First Solar, Inc
Country United States 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Frequent correspondence regarding research, markets, strategic supplies of raw materials.
Collaborator Contribution Frequent correspondence regarding research, markets, strategic supplies of raw materials.
Impact This partnership has directly supported the research progrrss, and has been translated into outreach and engagement activities (including the Distinguished Lecturer Programme for D Smith)
Start Year 2015
 
Description Mandalay 
Organisation Mandalay Resources
Country Canada 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Provision of data and discussion of downstream impact
Collaborator Contribution Provision of samples and industy strategic advice
Impact Full research consortia, "TeaSe" project.
Start Year 2015
 
Description Newmont Mining Corp. 
Organisation Newmont Mining Corporation
Country United States 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Data, analysis and a forthcoming workshop
Collaborator Contribution Field logistical support, provision of samples
Impact Still active
Start Year 2016
 
Description AMG Conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Multi-disciplinary audience; invited talk on critical metals for Applied Mineralogy Group
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description EU By product recovery best practice 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Event in Brussels on by-products. Presented results in progress on NERC grant; built a consortium for higher TRL for Horizon 2020
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Fermor Conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Conference hosted at the Geological Society of London. All content recorded and made freely available through YouTube. Conference brought together academics from fields of petrology, geochemistry, volcanology and ore deposits to deliver presentations on current state-of-the-art on copper porphyry mineralisation (and associated ore styles).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.geolsoc.org.uk/fermor17
 
Description Gordon Research Conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact GRC events are joint industry-academic events. Good opportunity to present research directly to (non-partner) industrial stakeholders.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description IOM3 Minerals and Metals Production from Mine to Market (Cambridge) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Keynote talk (Jenkin & Abbott) on metallurgical processes. Added partners and stakeholders to projects.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description MDSG 2016 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact MDSG conference. Multiple presentations (talks and posters) from NERC grant.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description MDSG conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Mineral Deposits Studies Group. Multiple presenters from research project. Audience is academia and industry.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Mineralogical Society Distinguished Lecturer 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The Mineralogical Society of Great Britain and Ireland has invited Dan Smith to tour the UK and Ireland as a 2017-18 Distinguished Lecturer. He has delivered multiple talks on his research and its impact to audiences from academia (all levels), professional societies, and amateur interest groups.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018
URL https://www.minersoc.org/distinguished-lectures-17-18.html
 
Description NERC Kick off meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Kick off event for SOS programme, with invited delegates
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description NERC SOS Te and Se Workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact Two day workshop for invited academics and key industrial representatives (including national geological surveys) from around the world. Aims were to build a consortium for a NERC proposal (now submitted) and to initiate a network for future collaborations.

We have built a consortium and prepared one funding bid already.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description PERUMIN conference (Peru) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact International mining conference in Peru. Increased number of partners on project, expanded international reach.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Parliamentary Workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Parliamentary Workshop hosted by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Mining. Focussed on outcomes, impacts and implciations of the NERC SOS programme.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description SGA Nancy (France) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact International conference on mining, mineral exploration and geoscience. Presentations from Holwell and Jenkin. Consolidated partnership and collaboration with USGS.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description STDA Symposium 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Se and Te trade development association. Presentations from industry, politicians and academia. Good engagements with potential impact partners and stakeholders
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Te & Se workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact We hosted a three day meeting of researchers and industrial representatives from mining and end-user companies. Our meeting was held in the USA, and attracted delegates from across North America, UK, and Europe. We shared progress so far, and heard from other researchers and companies working in the subject area.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018