Scientists from the University of Exeter will lead a ground-breaking new collaborative research project to discover crucial new deposits of essential raw materials across Europe.

The pioneering team, including geologists from the Camborne School of Mines, will devise new, state-of-the-art techniques to expose previously unknown underground resources essential to the manufacturing of many ‘high-tech’ products.

The four-year project, which has received a grant of €5.4 million from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, begins this month.

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

Professor Frances Wall, Camborne School of Mines, who is leading the project, said: “The pioneering new research that will be developed as part of this exciting project will give us unrivalled access to new locations for some of Europe’s most critical raw material deposits. We believe that the project will pave the way for Europe to become a world-leader in this specialist, but vital, area of mineral extraction, and crucially exploit them in an environmentally-responsible way.”

The project team 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. The 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, St Andrews, G. d'Annunzio and Mendel in Brno.

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

Professor Wall added: “We believe that this is the largest research project on carbonatites and alkaline rocks ever undertaken. It is a tremendously exciting opportunity to garner lifetimes' worth of expertise from the world’s experts, which we will do through a series of expert council workshops and fieldtrips."

The team held its first meeting at the Natural History Museum on February 22-23. The project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement number 689909.

Image: Representatives from the twelve project teams at the Kick Off meeting held at the Natural History Museum, London in February. The project is coordinated by Camborne School of Mines.