Minerals are essential for economic development, the functioning of society and maintaining our quality of life.

Consumption of most raw materials has increased steadily since World War II, and demand is expected to continue to grow in response to the burgeoning global population and economic growth, especially in Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRIC) and other emerging economies. We are also using a greater variety of metals than ever before.

New technologies such as those required for modern communication and computing and to produce clean renewable, low-carbon energy require considerable quantities of many metals. In the light of these trends there is increasing global concern over the long-term availability of secure and adequate supplies of the minerals and metals needed by society. Of particular concern are 'critical' raw materials (E-tech element), so called because of their growing economic importance and essential contribution to emerging 'green' technologies, yet which have a high risk of supply shortage.

Our research programme aims to improve understanding of E-tech element concentration in seafloor mineral deposits, in particular Cobal Crusts, which are considered the largest yet least explored source of E-tech elements globally. Our research will focus on two key aspects: The formation of the deposits, and reducing the impacts resulting from their recovery.

Our primarily focus is on the processes controlling the concentration of the deposits and their composition at a local scale (10s to 100s square km). These will involve data gathering by robotic vehicles across underwater mountains and small, deep-sea basins off the coast of North Africa and Brazil. By identifying the processes that result in the highest grade deposits, we aim to develop a predictive model for their occurrence worldwide. We will also address how to minimise the environmental impacts of mineral recovery.

Schematic of crust formation
Schematic of crust formation and the environmental processes affecting deposition and resulting from resource recovery