University of Brighton researchers have been awarded a £799,950 grant by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). The researchers, from the School of Applied Sciences and the Centre for Earth Observation, will be exploring more efficient and less damaging ways to source vital rare earth elements.

Improving resource efficiency and minimising environmental impact

Rare earth elements are vital in a range of technologies that will help decarbonise the planet, including electric vehicles (EVs) and wind turbines.

In particular, neodymium and dysprosium are essential for renewable energy devices. University of Brighton researchers will explore ways to access these elements more sustainably by testing rocks that have already been partly broken down by natural weathering to see how much they contain.

Rare earth elements are primarily sourced from carbonatites – rock crystallised from carbonate magma. As rocks break down over time, the elements become easier to extract in a more environmentally friendly process – such as simple chemical leaching – rather than more destructive or energy-intensive methods.

Collaborative research to tackle environmental challenges

Professor Martin Smith will lead the Brighton research team, along with Dr Laura Evenstar. They will collaborate with colleagues from the University of Exeter, plus international researchers and partners from China, the Czech Republic, Finland and Malawi.