Copper Basin Exploration Science (CuBES)

Lead Research Organisation: Natural History Museum
Department Name: Earth Sciences


The criticality of Cu, Co (+/- V) in battery technology and electricity transmission has established them as key components
of the carbon-free energy transition. A major proportion of these elements are sourced from sedimentary basin-hosted
deposits, formed from large-scale fluid flow systems. Recent work has shown that diverse basin architectures and
processes were responsible for their genesis, yet we still do not understand why so few basins become highly endowed
with metals. Given their paucity, the geological evolution of such basins demands the juxtaposition of unique conditions
that: (1) generated large volumes of metal-bearing fluid; (2) provided sufficient sulfur; (3) created reducing trap sites; and
(4) focused fluid flow into these sites [5]. Understanding large deposits is particularly significant because they are efficient
to mine and offer the greatest societal benefits.
Our particular focus is to develop and integrate mineral and petroleum systems approaches to provide a disruptive
innovation opportunity in the science and industrial applications in this field. Our objectives are to identify the processes,
operating over a range of scales, that lead to the formation of large Cu-Co-(V) deposits and derive new and practical
exploration tools. The opportunity is timely, given the current wave of academic interest in these ore systems, and the
increased collaboration between industry and academia to develop sophisticated methods that can reduce exploration
costs, risk and environmental impact.
To tackle these challenges, we have assembled a multi-institute academic consortium with internationally-recognised
expertise across the geosciences. We have also built strategic research alliances with: (1) the UK's major mining houses,
Rio Tinto and Anglo American, and with BHP and First Quantum Minerals, all with global interests in sediment-hosted
copper mineralisation; (2) the energy sector (Scheupbach Energy); and (3) international academic partners (CSIRO, Univ.
Houston, GFZ Potsdam, Universidad Nacional, Buenos Aires. The collaboration between PIs, PDRAs, affiliated PhD
students funded outside the grant, industry and international partners will deliver high impact scientific publications, new
data and tools to support the development of lower risk mineral exploration strategies, and highlight the UK as a world-leading
community for research in basin-hosted mineral systems.

Planned Impact

By improving our understanding of the fundamental aspects of sedimentary ore formation we will provide industry with new
insights that will enable the development of refined exploration models grounded in physics and chemistry. This may be in
our understanding of how alteration zones relate to hidden targets at the district scale, and/or at the broader scale where
the knowledge of these processes may serve to develop new regional exploration models. More efficient regional targeting
that accurately identifies favourable and unfavourable exploration tracts will result in socio economic benefits with a
reduction in environmental impact and significant cost reductions and reduced risk. In the case of sediment-hosted base
metal deposits, many basins are barren of significant mineralization, whereas a limited number contain huge resources.
Understanding this dichotomy, will have a lasting impact on exploration models for these deposits.


10 25 50
Description Development of reliable proxies to distinguish significantly mineralized sedimentary basins, enhancing the likely discovery of new sediment-hosted copper ± Co± V deposits
Amount £3,500 (GBP)
Organisation Rio Tinto Group 
Sector Private
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2019 
End 09/2023
Title Improvements in automated SEM-based mineral classification and mineral chemistry analysis 
Description A workflow has been developed including hardware and software optimisation to quantify the modal mineralogy of rocks and determine the major, minor and trace element chemistry of the constituent minerals 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2020 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact Several MSci student projects using the methodology have been completed. Data acquired using the method were reported as part of the "SAGES" NERC/DOST-PCIEERD partnership and project development grant to Imperial College London and partners (NE/W000466/1) 
Description Anglo American plc 
Organisation Anglo American PLC
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Access to project data and scientific outputs, invitation to attend project update meetings
Collaborator Contribution Technical and scientific advice, access to samples and exploration licence areas
Impact None to date
Start Year 2021
Description BHP 
Organisation BHP Billiton
Country Australia 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Presented initial project results to representatives from BHP in May and November 2018, highlighting industry-relevant aspects.
Collaborator Contribution BHP agreed to open up project results from two PhD projects they are supporting and provide access to samples from several of their operations.
Impact None
Start Year 2018
Description First Quantum Minerals 
Organisation First Quantum Minerals
Country Canada 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Provision of research data and other scientific outputs, invitation to attend project update meetings
Collaborator Contribution Provision of samples, access to exploration and mine licence areas, logistical support and scientific input
Impact Fieldwork and sample collection carried out by FQM team to mitigate Covid-related restrictions for visiting Zambia
Start Year 2021
Description Rio Tinto 
Organisation Rio Tinto Group
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution We presented initial project results to representatives from the partner companies in May and November 2018, highlighting industry-relevant aspects.
Collaborator Contribution Rio Tinto agreed to fully open up two PhD projects they are supporting, including results obtained from their own in-house mineral separate samples.
Impact No outputs to report yet.
Start Year 2018