£2.6 million training centre in mineral resources for the green energy transition

Researchers at Leeds have helped to secure a £2.6 million initiative funded by Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), part of UK Research and Innovation.

The new consortium, called TARGET (Training and Research Group for Energy Transition Mineral Resources) will train a new generation of mineral resource experts to enable the United Kingdom’s transition to sustainable energy.

TARGET represents a range of partners across UK academia and industry. It is one of four new Natural Environment Research Council-funded centres that will teach the next generation of PhD students who will build careers in research, business and public service.

Increasing demand for mineral resources

Each year, over 3 billion tonnes of metals are produced from mineral resources. Mineral resources underpin society – without them, we would have no infrastructure, industry or technology.

The UK’s transition to renewable energy generation and use – through wind turbines, solar panels and electric vehicles for example – is increasing the demand for mineral resources.

Some of them are considered ‘critical’ – economically important but with challenged supply chains that are vulnerable to disruption.

Growing expertise in critical mineral resources will help to develop a secure and sustainable supply.

Led by the University of Leicester’s Centre for Sustainable Resource Extraction, TARGET is a UK wide group of universities, research organisations and industrial partners.

The centre will provide doctoral-level training in the full lifecycle of minerals from sector leaders. TARGET is recruiting its first cohort of researchers to start in October 2024, with further information available at https://target.le.ac.uk/.

Geosciences are crucial to the energy transition

Dr Taija Torvela, Associate Professor in Applied Structural Geology at Leeds, helped to set up TARGET and is the Leeds academic lead for the initiative.

“Geosciences, including mineral resources, are already playing a crucial role in the energy transition”, she says.

“There is a shortage of relevant skills both within the UK and globally in mineral resources-facing roles and as the energy transition gathers pace that shortage is increasing. The TARGET is a fantastic opportunity to help to address this. I’m really excited that Leeds researchers and students will have this opportunity to help facilitate a rapid green energy transition.

“This is also a great opportunity to bring people from different disciplines together. Minerals research isn’t just about extraction, TARGET research and training will also address things like recycling of metals, waste management and environmental and societal responsibility in mining.”

The TARGET Centre will combine PhD research projects with a multidisciplinary training programme that will provide skills in mineral exploration, processing, finance, policy and sustainability at all stages of a mineral’s use – from a rock in the ground to the end of a product’s useful life.

TARGET’s training will be led by a mix of academic researchers and industry practitioners and the parentship of the centre includes some of the most important global companies in mining, mineral analysis, environmental standards and finance.

TARGET will operate alongside other UK Research and Innovation programmes, including the £15 million CLIMATES programme being delivered by Innovate UK, boosting rare earth circularity, to provide opportunities for UK industry and research to enhance the responsible supply of minerals.

Protecting the landscape of the UK

Science, Research and Innovation Minister, Andrew Griffith, said:

“Backing our brightest students to tackle issues as vital as flooding and protecting our water quality is an investment in protecting the landscape of the UK, while defending our planet and the resources we need to deliver us all healthier and more prosperous lives.

“With more than £10m in funding over the coming years it will also help to skill-up students in high-value research, which will grow the UK economy and ensure we fulfil the potential of the talent spread throughout our country.”

Professor Peter Liss, Interim Executive Chair of NERC, said:

“This investment by NERC will equip the next generation of environmental science researchers with the technical and professional skills to tackle some of the most significant challenges facing the UK and globally. 

“The new centres for doctoral training will focus on the key themes of flood management, freshwater quality, sustainable mineral resources and wetland conservation.”

Apply to TARGET

TARGET is recruiting its first cohort of researchers to start in October 2024, for more information or to apply visit: https://target.le.ac.uk/

TARGET partners are University of Leicester, Cardiff University, University of Exeter, Natural History Museum, Imperial College, University of Leeds, University of Liverpool, Brighton University, St Andrews University, University College London, University of Aberdeen, the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre, University of Southampton, University of Edinburgh, the British Geological Survey and the Geological Survey of Northern Ireland.