TARGET: a £2.6m centre to train new generation of mineral resources experts

Published: 19 January 2024

A new generation of mineral resource experts to enable the United Kingdom’s transition to sustainable energy are to be trained by a consortium representing academia and industry, including SUERC: Centre for the Isotope Sciences.

A new generation of mineral resource experts to enable the United Kingdom’s transition to sustainable energy are to be trained by a consortium representing academia and industry, including SUERC: Centre for the Isotope Sciences.

The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), part of UK Research and Innovation, have announced £2.6 million to support a multi-institution centre for doctoral training, the Training and Research Group for Energy Transition Mineral Resources (TARGET), to address the skills and research needs for the UK.

This is part of a broader £10.4M NERC funding initiative to develop the next generation of Environmental Scientists who will go on to build careers in research, business and public service – find out more here.

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

The TARGET centre is a UK-wide consortium of universities, research organisations and industrial partners that 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.

Dr Laura Hepburn is leading SUERC’s contribution to the new NERC TARGET Centre for Doctoral Training. Dr Hepburn said: “I’m delighted that SUERC is lending our support to this important TARGET, and that our expertise and leadership in application of isotope geochemistry to critical metal research will be part of the development of the next generation of outstanding researchers in this area.

“We have a strong track record of postgraduate training, with more than 200 University and UKRI-funded PhDs taking part in cutting-edge research at our NEIF Stable Isotopes and Argon Labs over the last 25 years. We’re proud of the one-to-one, in-depth approach that we take to training and skills development.

“I’m looking forward to welcoming the first cohort of TARGET students to SUERC so we can help deliver the UK’s next generation Environmental Scientists fluent in state-of-the-art isotope applications.”

TARGET’s leader Dr Dan Smith, from the University of Leicester School of Geography, Geology and the Environment, said: “TARGET is a really exciting opportunity for us to train the next generation of researchers with the skills they need to tackle some of the biggest challenges in mineral resources: how do they form? How can we find the raw materials we need? How can we process and extract them efficiently, and how can we be more sustainable whilst doing so?

“Importantly, it’s not solely about getting more resources. We will develop strategies to ensure more careful stewardship of the resources we do have - considering circular economy models, exploring the utility of “waste”, and evolving more efficient use of mineral products.”

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 UKRI 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.

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.”

TARGET's partners are University of Leicester, Cardiff University, University of Exeter, Natural History Museum, Imperial College, the British Geological Survey, the Geological Survey of Northern Ireland, University of Liverpool, University of Leeds, Brighton University, St Andrews University, University College London, University of Aberdeen, SUERC: Centre for the Isotope Sciences, University of Southampton and University of Edinburgh.

About SUERC – Centre for the Isotope Sciences

The Centre delivers internationally-leading research, technology innovation, and training across the isotope sciences.  Through our critical mass of state-of-the-art instrumentation and highly skilled staff, we provide a focus for world-leading research that tackles strategic research questions in Earth, Environmental, Heritage, and Biomedical Sciences.


First published: 19 January 2024

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