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PhD Studentship - Enhanced Mineral Reactivity in Fault Zones: Quantifying the Role of Deformation in Leaching of Critical Metals from Granites

The University of Manchester

Qualification Type: PhD
Location: Manchester
Funding for: UK Students, EU Students
Funding amount: £18,622 - please see advert
Hours: Full Time
Placed On: 23rd November 2023
Closes: 14th February 2024

The funding will cover tuition fees and a tax-free stipend set at the UKRI rate (£18,622 for 2023/24) for UK students.

By combining laboratory and field-based observations of experimentally and naturally faulted granites, this project investigates the impact of faulting on enhanced leaching of critical metals into pore fluids. The successful candidate should have a degree in geosciences, environmental sciences, physics or similar, demonstrating an understanding of rock mechanics and geochemistry. The project is suited to individuals interested in applying fundamental geoscience concepts and techniques to address urgent societal issues.

Growing demand for critical metals necessitates exploration in traditionally unconventional ore deposits. The push for secure local supply chains has driven the commercialisation of lithium, a key component in battery technology, found in brines associated with geothermal prospects e.g. United Downs in Cornwall, Upper Rhine Graben in Alsace. In the UK, Cornish granites are being explored by Cornish Lithium, British Lithium, Cornish Tin and Cornwall Resources, for a range of critical metals including lithium, tin, tungsten, copper, gold and silver. Demand is such that some of these companies are evaluating the potential for the extraction of Li, and other critical metals, from naturally-occurring brines derived from granite-water interaction and thereby avoiding energy intensive, extractive mining. Faults commonly form fluid flow conduits (Caine et al., 1996) and these water rich structures are known sites of mineralisation (Sibson, 1987). Fault deformation, reducing grain sizes and increasing surface area, creating ‘fresh’ reactive grain surfaces (Wintsch, 1995). Wells drilled into faulted Cornish granite have revealed lithium-rich groundwaters (e.g.,Edmonds et al., 1984). This project hypothesises that mechanical deformation during faulting increases reactivity, proposing that fault zones are prime locations for the incorporation of lithium and other critical metals in pore waters.

This project aims to combine rock deformation experiments, specifically focussing on assessment of laboratory-produced microstructures and fluid chemistry, along with a field-based and petrographical study of ancient fault rocks. This integrated approach contributes to the overall evaluation of the reactivity of faulted lithium bearing granites. Findings from this project have scope to produce fundamental knowledge with implications for aqueous deposits of critical metals, specifically the lithium resource model. Additionally, there are hybrid implications for the processes involved in recharge in geothermal energy extraction settings. The laboratory component of this research will be conducted in the globally acclaimed Rock Deformation Laboratory at the University of Manchester, known for its seminal scientific contributions to the field of structural geology and rock mechanics. You will collaborate with a diverse team of researchers currently leveraging empirical results to enhance predictions of geological behaviour in practical applications. Fieldwork will be conducted in various localities in Cornwall and other sites in collaboration with researchers from UoM and the University of Exeter’s Camborne School of Mines.

Please contact the supervisors before applying; Dr Natalie Farrell (Natalie.farrell@mancester.ac.uk), Dr Julian Mecklenburgh (julian.mecklenburgh@manchester.ac.uk) and Robin Shail (R.K.Shail@exeter.ac.uk)

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