Brighton University is sharing in a £2.7 million grant to identify new sources of rare elements.
The elements are vital for a growing number of high-tech processes and products such as wind turbines and hybrid cars.
The research will also investigate new ways to lower the environmental impact of extracting the rare earth elements (REEs).
The university is receiving £400,000 from the Natural Environment Research Council to fund a post-doctoral researcher working on experimental studies of rare earth behaviour on mineral surfaces.
The grant will also fund a PhD studentship to work on the behaviour of the elements in enriched rock types, from magmatic to weathering systems.
Martin Smith, reader in geology in the School of Environment and Technology, is leading the university’s contribution to the four-year project.
The university will be working with the overall project lead, Camborne School of Mines at Exeter University, and with Leeds University, the British Geological Survey, Sheffield University and St Andrews University.
Dr Smith said that rare earth elements were part of a group of elements fundamental to the production of high-technology equipment and renewable energy generation.
He said that these were increasingly in demand for the production of high-powered magnets in wind turbines.
He said: “Neodymium magnets are also essential components for hybrid cars with electric motors and rare earth elements are also used in catalysts, alloys and phosphors used in energy-efficient lighting and display screens, glass and polishing materials and ceramics.”
Dr Smith said: “This is an exciting, multidisciplinary research project which we hope will lead us to secure and low-environmental-impact supplies of critical rare earth elements.”
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