The Search for Green Technology Metals – How Fluids Make or Break Critical Metal Deposits – Fully Funded PhD Studentship Available

I am pleased that an application for the University of St Andrews Global PhD Scheme has been successful. The project is entitled “The Search for Green Technology Metals – How Fluids Make or Break Critical Metal Deposits” and will involve a study of the Ivigtut (also spelled Ivittuut) deposit in Southern Greenland. It is a joint project between Professor Adrian Finch at St Andrews, UK and Professor Henrik Friis at Oslo, Norway. The project involves us working with the licence holders to the the Ivigtut deposit, Eclipse Metals.

The project is funded under the co-Tutelle Scheme in which a candidate works jointly between two institutions, gaining experience and insights from both. Here the project is jointly supported by the University of St Andrews and the Natural History Museum at the University of Oslo. As part of the Co-tutelle scheme, on completion, the graduate will receive PhDs from both institutions. The project will begin with 18 months to two years at the University of St Andrews nominally under the supervision of Finch, including one (and maybe two) fieldseasons in Greenland. The second half of the project – including a PhD examination in Oslo – will be performed in Norway nominally under the supervision of Friis. However we will make every effort to ensure that joint supervision by both supervisors will be seamless, irrespective of the location of the student.

The application deadline is the 31 March 2022. Please see the advice on applying for research degree programmes. There are two ways to apply:

First, an application can be made through the University Portal. Please identify Professor Adrian Finch as the proposed supervisor and indicate in your application that you wish to be considered for the “Global Doctoral Scholarship (reference: Finch-Friis)”.

Second, an application can be made by submitting a CV and a covering letter to Professor Adrian Finch. The Covering Letter should explain why you are interested in the position and outline your relevant skill-sets. Any candidate who applied in this manner and who was on our short list would then be asked to apply through the formal on-line system.

Note that we are keen to explore the possibility of starting fieldwork in the summer of 2022.

View of the Ivigtut Mine site in the foreground with the Gardar complex of Kungnat forming the mountain in the distance.

The project will be conducted in English. The application procedure will be handled by the University of St Andrews on behalf of both institutions but the candidate must meet the entrance requirements of both Universities. The entrance requirements of the University of Oslo are given here, whereas those at St Andrews are given here. Where the entrance requirements do not fully align, the candidate must fulfil the more stringent of the two. Queries can be addressed to Professors Finch or Friis.

In the present case, we invite applications from candidates with a Masters level qualification and, if English is not the first language of the applicant, a minimum entry requirement of an IELTS score of 6.5 is required (see the links for the other forms of demonstrating English language capability). For the fieldwork component, the candidate needs to show sufficient physical fitness to allow them to complete fieldwork in the harsh conditions in Greenland.

Candidates are free to make informal enquiries to either of the supervisors.

Project Outline

  1. Context

One of the biggest challenges facing global Sustainability is to decarbonise global economies. This will be achieved by replacing oil and gas-based power with new Materials for the Modern World, including green technologies such as wind turbines and electric vehicles. While these commitments are easily made, the challenge then becomes to supply the world with the resources to achieve the green energy transition. Many of the metals used in green devices – most notably rare earths such as neodymium and terbium – are mined and processed solely in China. Since 2011, restrictions on Chinese raw materials have restricted the development and implementation of green technologies in Europe.

The EU publishes regular assessments of critical materials and for decades it has placed developing a European rare earth supply as its strategically most pressing natural resource issue. For geological reasons, all major potential European rare earth sources are in Scandinavia with Greenland hosting some of the largest rare earth deposits, not just in Europe but globally. Hence there is now international effort to bring Europe’s own rare earth sources into production. However European sources do not come from the same rock type as other rare earth ores and hence, before this can be realised, there needs to be fundamental research into: a) reconstructing the three-dimensional shape of the deposits and understanding how they formed and, b) understanding the minerals in which the rare earths are found and developing the most cost efficient and environmentally sensitive ways to extract metals from the ore. The academic community therefore now has a vital role to play in bringing global commitments to zero carbon economies into reality.

The Present Project

‘Mineral deposit’ is the term given to a rock from which one can extract metals in a commercially viable way. Ideally, it comprises cm-size crystals of ore minerals from which one extracts metals most efficiently, and, in the present geological context, this means ‘primary’ crystals formed in magma chambers beneath extinct volcanoes in a continental rift setting. However, all ore bodies have hydrothermal fluids (‘hot water’) moving in and out which dissolve elements of interest into solution and then reprecipitate them nearby as new minerals. These ‘secondary’ minerals are much smaller crystals of many different minerals which present a far greater challenge for extraction.

The present PhD will focus on the way in which hydrothermal fluids move elements in and out of critical metal deposits. In some places (Fig. 1, e.g. Motzfeldt, Greenland, Finch et al. 2019 Ore Geology Reviews), the fluid makes it more difficult to process and extract the metal – in others (e.g. Ivigtut, sometimes spelled Ivittuut, Greenland, Fig. 1), the same process creates a new deposit type. In short, the behaviour of the fluid makes or breaks metal deposits and understanding its behaviour is the key academic question in critical resource geology (e.g. Friis & Casey 2018, Finch et al. 2019, van de Ven et al. 2019, Sokó­ł et al. 2021). This PhD will be the next stage in our developing studies on fluid transport in and around critical metal deposits.

Figure 1: The Rift-Related Subvolcanic Complexes in Southern Greenland. The ages of the intrusions (in Millions of Years) with the letter referring to the manner in which the age has been determined. Ivigtut is in the far NW and Igdlerfigsalik is in the East.

Although the principles behind the research are directly relevant to all Europe’s rare earth projects, the project will focus on one in particular: the Ivigtut deposit in Greenland, which formed 1.3 billion years ago as a cooling hydrothermal fluid moved through the Earth’s crust, precipitating new minerals rich in critical metals. Our recent paper in Geology (Sokó­ł et al. 2021) reconstructed the chemical fingerprint of a very similar fluid which moved out of the Igdlerfigsalik (also spelled Illerfissalik) magma chamber 1.18 billion years ago, dissipating critical metals over a wide area. However, Ivigtut is the product of a fluid which precipitated minerals in a focussed region, rather than a broad area. Analysis of the geochemistry and mineralogy at Ivigtut allows us to fill in the gaps in our understanding at Igdlerfigsalik by constraining the geochemistry, temperature and mineral reactions that take place when such a fluid moves through, and interacts with, the Earth’s crust.

Project Outcomes

The present PhD will address the key unknowns that hinder the development of Europe’s rare earth potential. Ivigtut is a remarkable natural laboratory in which to study the mobility of critical metals in mineral deposits, but what is learned at Ivigtut will be of significance in all of Europe’s largest rare earth deposits, thereby accelerating the development of European sources of critical resources. This will allow Europe to turn its pledges regarding zero-carbon futures into reality.

Our focus on Ivigtut is timely since Eclipse Metals has recently been granted the exploration licence to the area. In addition to providing internationally significant academic research on how critical element deposits form, the present PhD will have immediate impact in developing Ivigtut as a source for critical metals in the European green technology market, directly addressing issues of Sustainability and Materials for the Modern World. By collaborating with industry from the start of this project, we help them anticipate and solve extraction problems that will become evident as the ore comes closer to production, thereby accelerating the realisation of the transition to green technologies across Europe.

The St Andrews – Oslo Partnership

There has been a history of collaboration between St Andrews and Oslo going back decades and the present project will amplify and deepen those ties. Finch was a formal visitor at the University of Oslo in 1997 and Tom Andersen (Oslo) visited St Andrews in 2010; St Andrews alumnus Henrik Friis was appointed associate professor at Oslo in 2012 and Friis’s ex-student (Borst) became a postdoc in St Andrews in 2017. Joint fieldwork between St Andrews and Oslo was carried out in Greenland in 2018, a joint research grant at the UK Diamond synchrotron facility was awarded in 2017 and joint publications include most recently Finch et al. (2016, Phys Chem Minerals), Borst et al. (2019, Mineral. M.) and Hutchison et al. (2019, Nature Communications).

The collaboration between Finch and Friis is successful because the scientific approaches of Friis and Finch complement well. St Andrews targets the ‘big picture’ of why mineralisation appears on regional scales (m-km-100 km), which complements the smaller, mineral-scale studies of critical ores (nm-mm-m) that Friis has pioneered. A full understanding of any mineral deposit or province requires both approaches – from nm to km. The instrumentation base of each institution is similarly complementary – the isotope and spectroscopy labs of the School of Earth & Environmental Sciences are at the leading edge of addressing large-scale questions of regional development of mineralisation and this marries with crystallographic instrumentation at Oslo which determines how metals are located in mineral structures on atomic scales.

One of Oslo’s key contributions is access to the world’s most comprehensive systematic collections of critical metal ore minerals, with particularly detailed coverage of Scandinavian minerals. The world was first told about critical metal ores by Scandinavian scientists and indeed five rare earth elements are named after Nordic places or people. Friis’s expertise with the collection will provide spectroscopic and crystallographic standards to be used in the characterisation of critical metal ores. In addition, the University of St Andrews and University of Oslo are both signatories to the “University of the Arctic” initiative. The outcome will be internationally significant, cutting-edge research addressing the genesis and nature of critical metal ores from atomic to regional scales.

Supervisory Arrangements

The student will be jointly supervised by Finch and Friis with St Andrews as the lead institution. The candidate will spend the first 18 months in St Andrews and the second 18 months at Oslo, although this first year will include fieldwork in Greenland with both supervisors. In addition to physical meetings (depending on covid), online meetings will be held regularly between student and both supervisors.

Doctoral Research at University of Oslo (UiO)

In the Norwegian university system PhD-students are employees of the university (position code 1017 ) and therefore you will benefit from attractive welfare options and pension agreement. In addition, Oslo’s family-friendly environment provides rich opportunities for culture and outdoor activities. As part of the PhD-training requirements at UiO, the student is required to follow courses and acquire a minimum of 30 ECTS. The current project is hosted by the Mineralogy Research Group at the Natural History Museum, the largest natural history museum in Norway.

Project Timetable

St Andrews                             Sep 2022-Mar 2024 (including 2 months in Greenland)

Oslo                                        Apr 2024-Sep 2025

PhD Submission expected in Sep 2025, examination in Oslo.

We are keen to explore with potential candidates the possibility of starting fieldwork in Summer 2022. There will be meetings in both St Andrews and Oslo where the student and both supervisors attend (i.e. Finch will visit Oslo and Friis will visit St Andrews). Finch will lead the student in isotopic and petrological characterisation of the ores, whereas Friis will provide his expertise and skills in rare mineral identification and characterisation. Furthermore, from the work with Eclipse Metals, the licence holders of the Ivigtut region, the candidate will gain experience of the critical metal exploration, enriching their academic development with experience of the industrial sector. The candidate will develop the complete skill-set in critical metal ore genesis, from nm to km scales, with a broad understanding of the needs of industry.

Relevant References (authorships from Oslo and St Andrews are highlighted in bold)

  • Sokó­ł K, Finch AA, Hutchison W, Cloutier J, Borst AM, Humphreys M (2021) Quantifying metasomatic HFSE-REE transport from alkaline magmas, Geology, in press.
  • Gulbransen EH, Friis H, Dal Bo F, Erembert M (in press) Illoqite-(Ce), Na2NaBaCeZnSi6O17, a new member of the nordite supergroup from Ilímaussaq alkaline complex, South Greenland. Mineralogical Magazine – Journal of Mineral Sciences, in press
  • Hutchison W, Finch AA & Boyce AJ (2020) The sulfur isotope evolution of magmatic-hydrothermal fluids: insights into ore-forming processes. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 288, 176-198.
  • Borst AM, Smith MP, Finch AA, Estrade G, Villanova-de-Benavent C, Nason P, Marquis E, Horsburgh NJ, Goodenough KM, Xu C, Kynický J & Geraki K (2020) Adsorption of Rare Earth Elements in Regolith-Hosted Clay Deposits, Nature Communications, 11, 4386.
  • Hutchison W, Babiel RJ, Finch AA, Marks MAW, Markl G, Boyce AJ, Stüeken EE, Friis H, Borst AM & Horsburgh NJ (2019) Sulphur isotopes of alkaline magmas unlock long-term records of crustal recycling on Earth. Nature Communications, 10, 4208.
  • van de Ven M, Borst AM, Davies GR, Hunt EJ & Finch AA (2019) Hydrothermal Alteration of Eudialyte-Hosted Critical Metal Deposits: Fluid Source and Implications for Deposit Grade. Minerals, 9, 422;
  • Borst AM, Finch AA, Friis H, Horsburgh NJ, Gamaletsos PN, Goettlicher J, Steininger R & Geraki K (2019) Structural State of Rare Earth Elements in Eudialyte-Group Minerals. Mineralogical Magazine – Journal of Mineral Sciences, 1-49. doi:10.1180/mgm.2019.50.
  • Finch AA, McCreath JA, Reekie CDJ, Hutchison W, Ismaila A, Armour-Brown A, Andersen T, Simonsen SL (2019) From Mantle to Motzfeldt: A Genetic Model for Syenite-hosted Ta,Nb-mineralisation. Ore Geology Reviews, 107, 402-416.
  • Friis H, Casey WH (2018) Niobium is Highly Mobile as a Polyoxometallate ion during Natural Weathering. Canadian Mineralogist, 56, 905-912.
  • Friis H (2016) First occurrence of moskvinite-(Y) in the Ilímaussaq alkaline complex, South Greenland – implications for Rare Earth Element mobility. Mineralogical Magazine – Journal of Mineral Sciences, 80, 31-41.

2 Replies to “The Search for Green Technology Metals – How Fluids Make or Break Critical Metal Deposits – Fully Funded PhD Studentship Available”

  1. Adrian
    Interesting especially with the results we are seeing from the gronadal behind here it appears the REE are a lot higher grade with ratios I cant find anywhere else eg Pr ten times higher than Ce etc.certainly the two intrusions are closely related. In fact we can show you similar trends at tanbreez but I suspect the cryolite is the potassium equivalent
    Will be in Greenland all summer so we may catch up

    Liked by 1 person

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