An Introduction to Geoscience for Engineering/ Physics Students
Social Mobility Foundation – Virtual Placements – August 10th & 11th 2020
At the Social Mobility Foundation’s Physics and Engineering Virtual Placement on the 10th & 11th August 2020, the Critical Minerals Association’s founding members, Minviro and Cornish Lithium introduced 69 Year 12 & S5 students to Geosciences – 32 of whom were female and 38 from non-white ethnic backgrounds. Read on to discover the relationship between Geoscience/ Engineering/ Physics/ Chemistry and learn more about the Sustainability aspects of Geoscience and Mineral Exploration.
Lauren Tijsseling, Sustainability Manager @ Minviro
Following a BSc Applied Physics in the Netherlands at Delft University of Technology, Laurens completed an MSc in Mining Engineering, and worked as a Process Engineer and Postgraduate Researcher in Minerals Engineering before joining Minviro as Sustainability Manager.
An Introduction into Mining, Metals and the Environment to stop Global Warming - an Unlikely Match?
What Traditional Sciences are applied in Mineral Extraction?
Laurens touched upon the different sciences that are applied across a mine’s operational phases:
o Mining (physics, geology, maths)
o Mineral processing (physics, chemistry, maths)
o Extractive metallurgy (physics, chemistry, maths)
The geoscience space is also building on exciting developments in drones, satellites and information technology to identify deposits and develop mining projects.
How does Mineral Exploration link to Sustainability?
Laurens highlighted the link between mineral exploration and sustainability by exploring the importance of batteries as key in storing energy for renewable sources, decarbonising day to day travel (electric cars, buses), and powering our digital way of life (laptops, phones).
Before the move towards battery technologies, supply and demand for nickel, cobalt, lithium, manganese and graphite was relatively well-matched but now these materials could be the bottleneck to low carbon lifestyles. If you can’t grow a battery, you have to mine it – and at the moment, there aren't enough critical metals in society for recycling alone to provide the materials required.
This tied into Laurens’s work at Minviro, looking at life cycle assessments and sustainability frameworks for metals mining. He gave a fascinating example of a 377% difference between the highest and lowest greenhouse gas emissions for rare earth oxide production projects (rare earth oxides include neodymium, praseodymium which are essential to wind turbines and permanent magnets in motors). This showed the sustainability improvements that can be made by understanding all the energy inputs of mineral exploration, identifying the largest emissions of greenhouse gases, and implementing changes to reduce these emissions.
Rebecca Paisley, Exploration Geochemist at Cornish Lithium
Rebecca took Maths, Physics, Chemistry, Geography, French at A-Levels. After studying Earth Sciences at Oxford – a broad degree on earth processes (not just rocks!), she undertook a PhD in Volcanology at McGill University in Canada, where she researched volcano phenomena and worked abroad in 15 countries, explaining indicators of imminent eruption to locals. She worked at Roskill, an analyst firm, where she researched different uses of metals, how companies produce them, demand and where markets are going. Tungsten was her metal of expertise – a material used to make phones vibrate and keep planes stable. Currently she works at Cornish Lithium – a mineral exploration and development company focused on the environmentally sustainable extraction of lithium from geothermal brines in the historic mining district of Cornwall.
Presentation: ‘Introduction to Earth Sciences’
How do Geoscientists work with Engineers?
Geoscience is a broad topic and needs to bring different strands of research together to understand different systems - including chemists, physicists (satellites to understand how volcanoes are changing) and engineers. Rebecca works a lot with engineers at research institutions, companies that develop lasers to understand the chemistry of the rocks. In mining, geologists need to work with engineers, for example to build new instruments in order to dig out and find new ores. She often speaks to chemical engineers – discussing for example how to extract metals using acids, and understand how companies improve these processes to make them cleaner. She also works with battery producers and car manufacturers to understand what end- product they need.
What can you do with an Earth Science degree?
Earth Sciences are applicable to a lot of careers today – Software engineering, Mineral processing, Earth observation (using satellites), Geophysicists (Mars Rover), Non-Profits etc.
A typical week for Rebecca as a geochemist includes: field work, processing samples in the lab, clean lab chemistry, office work, using servers to get data – though this varies depending on what you specialise in.
The difference between working in Industry vs Academia is that in Academia you’re coming up with the problems as well as trying to solve them, reading everything about a topic and filling a gap. In Industry, someone comes to you with a problem, and you apply best practices/ new methods to a situation.
Geoscience also offers more travel than most careers. During her PhD, Rebecca travelled to 15 different countries! As a field geologist you might also have a different working schedule – for example working for 8 days and having 6 days off!
Geosciences are linked to sustainability - in order to have a low-carbon transition we need to mine more. As technology becomes more and more refined, certain minerals are required for these technologies. For example, Indium is essential for solar panels and neodymium is needed for wind turbines.
Social Mobility Foundation & Critical Minerals Association
The UK Government Shortage Occupation List's ‘physical scientists' section highlights engineering geologists, hydrogeologists, geophysicist, geoscientists, geologists, geochemists as areas of skills shortages.
Numerous initiatives promote geosciences and raise awareness of the importance that mining has if we are to obtain the minerals (e.g. lithium, cobalt, graphite, copper) necessary for a clean growth agenda.
In solidarity with these initiatives, the Critical Minerals Association has been working with the Social Mobility Foundation – an incredible charity that supports high achieving 16-17 year olds from lower socio-economic backgrounds by working with employers to provide skills sessions, internships, mentorships to young students. They work across 11 sectors: Accountancy, Architecture, Banking & Finance, Biology & Chemistry, Business, Digital, Engineering & Physics, Law, Media & Communications, Medicine, Politics - but there are currently no mining related employers.
The Critical Minerals Association is looking for geoscience supporters - if you’d like to get involved as a geoscience advocate sign up here or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.