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Geologists at St Andrews to help find essential new mineral deposits

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Scientists from the University of St Andrews are to take part in a £4.2 million research project to discover crucial new deposits of essential raw materials across Europe.

The pioneering team, including geologists from the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at St Andrews, will devise new, state-of-the-art techniques to expose previously unknown underground resources essential to the manufacturing of many ‘high-tech’ products.

The St Andrews team has been allocated £290,000 of the total £4.2m which has been granted from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.

At present, less than three per cent of the supply of critical raw materials – which include rare earths, phosphate, and niobium – is sourced directly from Europe. However, experts believe that there is a wealth of as-yet-unexplored deposits located across the continent, which could be successfully mined.

The University has a long-standing reputation for working alongside exploration geology companies, discovering new rare element deposits and understanding how they form. These metals form essential parts of almost every modern gadget, from mobile phones to MRI scanners, but they are all currently imported to Europe. It is St Andrews’ experience, particularly in Greenland, that the project will utilise and develop for the new study.

The innovative new project will use mineralogy, petrology and geophysics techniques to create advanced exploration models to determine where the valuable minerals can be found.

Dr Adrian Finch (pictured top), of the Department of Earth & Environmental Sciences at the University of St Andrews, said: “I am very excited to be working alongside some of the other world experts on finding and understanding natural critical resources in Europe. St Andrews has a long and distinguished tradition in mineralogy, the geology and resources and the geology of the Arctic, all of which are coming together in this project.”

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The four-year project, which begins this month, comprises 12 partners, including five universities, staff from two national geological surveys, and the Natural History Museum, London. Four industry partners will also garner world-leading expertise to develop and expand their businesses, transferring their expertise from Africa to Europe, as part of the project.

Led by Exeter University, other partners involved are GeoAfrica, the British Geological Survey, Terratec Geophysical Services, Lancaster Exploration Ltd (a subsidiary of Mkango Resources Ltd), A. Speiser Environmental Consultants and Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, as well as the Universities of Tübingen, G. d’Annunzio and Mendel in Brno.

Studies will take place at seven natural laboratories, combined with Expert Council workshops.

The team held its first meeting at the Natural History Museum in London this week.


Note to editors: 

Photo 1 (top) Dr Adrian Finch working with the exploration company Nuna Minerals A/S in the Paatusoq Complex, SE Greenland, assessing the potential of the area to host rare earth elements and niobium.

Photo 2 (bottom) The exploration team having just landed in the Paatusoq Complex, SE Greenland: this area is of interest as a potential source of rare earth elements and niobium.

Issued by the Press Office, University of St Andrews contactable on 01334 462530 or email proffice@st-andrews.ac.uk.

Ref: Rare elements 24022016

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