Imperial to lead £118m green minerals research centre

Article by Adam Duckett

A NEW £118m (US$150m) research centre at Imperial College London will work to transform mineral extraction techniques so that critical materials can be mined and processed more sustainably.

The Centre for Future Materials will be funded over ten years by mining firm Rio Tinto, which says it will support research programmes to transform the way vital materials are produced, used, and recycled, and make them more sustainable.

There is a race to increase the production of metals and rare earths that are critical to the production of clean technologies including wind turbines, electric vehicles, and green hydrogen production. A 2022 study into the environmental impacts of rare earths production highlighted the large quantities of chemicals used during processing, and the volume of tailing produced during beneficiation, extraction, and separation that contain naturally occurring radioactive materials as major problems to overcome.

Mary Ryan, vice-provost of research and enterprise at Imperial, said: “All aspects of human society rely on materials – from housing to transport, energy, communications, and health. We need to create sustainable ways to extract, process, and reuse these resources. Moving to a truly sustainable society requires a holistic approach to these complex industrial processes.”

The centre will draw together researchers from across Imperial and plans to collaborate with other research institutions. It will be led from the earth science and engineering department and directed by Jan Cilliers, chair in mineral processing. The centre’s work will follow a systems-based approach to consider human-made pollution in all its forms including climate change, biodiversity loss, and chemical pollution rather than focusing solely on achieving zero carbon.

Imperial said that it will announce key partners in the coming months and launch its collaborative research programmes in early 2024.

Rio Tinto CEO Jakob Stausholm said: “I cannot wait to see the progress we make, as we bring together the best of industry and academia, with shared ambition.”

Article by Adam Duckett

Editor, The Chemical Engineer

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