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New NERC Centre for Doctoral Training: mineral resources for the energy transition (deadline for notifications for intent: 5 June)

Apply for funding to deliver a new Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in mineral resources for the energy transition.

You must be based at a UK research organisation eligible for UKRI research funding.

You will train a community of interdisciplinary challenge-led researchers who will identify and deliver ‘real world’ integrated solutions.

Opportunity status: Open

Funders: Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)

Funding type: Grant

Total fund: £2,600,000

Publication date: 20 April 2023

Closing date for notifications of intent: 5 June 2023

Closing date for full proposals: 27 July 2023

 Centre for Doctoral Training: mineral resources for energy transition – UKRI

Mineral resources underpin all manufacturing and infrastructure development in the UK and are essential to achieve the global energy transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy (see GOV.UK: the ten point plan for a green industrial revolution).

Many of the minerals required for clean energy technologies, from the lithium, cobalt and graphite in electric car batteries to the rare earth elements in wind turbines, are designated critical. This is because of their importance and potential disruption of supply (see British Geological Survey: UK criticality assessment of technology critical minerals and metals).

The UK’s role in resources is significant, as well as importing 40 megatonnes of metal per year: UK-listed companies are responsible for 50% of the world’s iron production and 30% of its copper. The London Metal Exchange handles $10 trillion in trade per year, and the UK has more than 5,000 companies in the mining value chain.

Global demand and international competition for technology-critical mineral resources is expected to quadruple by 2040. Current demand is already outstripping the rate of mineral production. We face a critical resource challenge in securing the supply and reducing the reliance on the minerals needed to achieve net zero and protect the future growth and resilience of the UK economy.

The UK critical minerals strategy sets out UK government ambitions to ensure that the minerals we will need to power our world in the future can be made available. These would be in the quantities needed, extracted in responsible ways, and supported by well-functioning and transparent markets. However, the skills base for minerals, particularly in areas such as mining and mineral processing, may be at risk.

Therefore, this is a critical time to ensure that a highly skilled research and innovation pipeline is available to meet the demand for interdisciplinary expertise across the whole mineral value chain.

A CDT investment will enable the UK skills base to realise the required step-changes and provide the interdisciplinary solutions needed. This will support domestic mineral industries and UK companies operating around the world to responsibly source the mineral resources required for the global energy transition. There is a need to:

  • find, identify, and characterise the mineral resources we need for the energy transition, including in sensitive and extreme environments, and further our understanding of the processes which form concentrated mineral deposits
  • extract required mineral resources using responsible methods with minimal environmental and social harm, including through the reduction of energy and water consumption across mineral value chains and the remediation of post-mine landscapes
  • embed circular economy approaches within the minerals sector, including developing efficient processing and refining techniques, reducing or reusing waste, and designing products for end-of-life recovery
  • increase transparency within global value chains to understand mineral flows and the impacts, vulnerabilities, and opportunities in the minerals sector in relation to trade, policy, security, and environmental leadership, including the development of new regulations, standards and frameworks to achieve truly sustainable approaches to securing, recovering, recycling and reuse of mineral resources

Mineral resource expertise in academia, policy, or industry, needs diverse and holistic training that develops and broadens skills and knowledge across multiple discipline boundaries. This approach is required to secure responsibly sourced resources to standards that have positive impacts on the environment and society.

The CDT will foster a community of interdisciplinary challenge-led researchers who will identify and deliver ‘real world’ integrated solutions, based on the strongest evidence, that put an environmental approach at their core.

There is NERC funding for a notional eight studentships a year (with three years of new student intake that is 24 studentships in total). An expectation is that this funding will be used to leverage additional investment (either cash or in-kind contributions) from multiple stakeholders including from government, business, and industry.

The CDT model is designed to support a translational approach by encouraging academic and non-academic partners to unite around common challenges. It is strongly recommended that the CDT should integrate end-user involvement from across the mineral value chain in developing and delivering the training required.

Innovate UK’s two year, £15 million CLIMATES programme, focused on circular critical materials supply chains for rare earth elements, is an advocate of this CDT opportunity.

The Innovate UK programme team would like to work with the successful bidders on an advisory basis, to ensure that this important skills and talent initiative is highlighted and supported by UK industry. NERC will facilitate post-award engagement between Innovate UK and the successful CDT.



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