Prof Marco Fiorentini and Dr Weronika Gorczyk of the Centre for Exploration Targeting at the University of Western Australia have signed a major research agreement with BHP, one of the world’s largest mining companies, to identify new areas for the discovery of deposits of nickel and copper, critical metals in the electric vehicle revolution.

The project, titled ‘Craton Margin Exploration Targeting 4D’ is a two-year project and involves colleagues of Marco and Weronika at the University of Leicester, UK, and Macquarie University, Sydney. It is funded by BHP’s Resource Centre of Excellence and Metals Exploration and will support three post-doctoral research fellows located in Australia and the United Kingdom.

Professor Fiorentini said “We are very proud to collaborate with BHP to tackle key knowledge gaps that currently hamper successful exploration of metals needed for the green future of our planet. We have a truly international and diverse team with complementary expertise and I am very excited to get started!”.

The project and partnership with BHP has developed directly from recent work by the UWA-Leicester group that has shed new light on the processes involved in the sources and transport mechanisms of metals through the lithosphere in magmatic systems, published in Nature Communications (Holwell et al., 2019; Blanks et al., 2020) and Lithos (Chong et al., 2021).

This innovative work will be coupled with novel advances in experimental petrology and tectonic modelling to highlight ‘sweet spots’ of crust that have undergone a series of favourable processes through geological time.

The collaborative research project will challenge scientists’ current understanding of the nickel mineral system, potentially opening up new exploration search space for nickel across the globe. Nickel is a major component in the lithium-ion battery cathodes used in the manufacture of EVs, and is therefore vital to the EV revolution.

Alongside Marco and Weronika, the international project team involves Dr David Holwell at the University of Leicester and Prof Steven Foley at Macquarie University, with Dr Jason Bennett taking up the position of Postdoctoral Research Fellow here at the CET. The BHP project team includes Dr Libby Sharman and Dr Nicole Januszczak.

Dr Holwell added: “We are delighted to have agreed to this partnership with BHP. It is particularly exciting to have the opportunity to apply some of our recent and ongoing research on nickel-copper-platinum group metal deposits directly to exploration targeting”.

Figure caption
Hand specimen of magmatic sulfide ore, which contains critical elements such as Ni, Cu and PGE that are vital to the EV revolution.

Journal articles referenced in text:
Holwell, D.A., Fiorentini, M., McDonald, I. et al. A metasomatized lithospheric mantle control on the metallogenic signature of post-subduction magmatism. Nat Commun 10, 3511 (2019).

Blanks, D.E., Holwell, D.A., Fiorentini, M.L. et al. Fluxing of mantle carbon as a physical agent for metallogenic fertilization of the crust. Nat Commun 11, 4342 (2020).

Joshua Chong, Marco L. Fiorentini, David A. Holwell, Marilena Moroni, Daryl E. Blanks, Gregory M. Dering, Alison Davis, Elena Ferrari, Magmatic cannibalisation of a Permo-Triassic Ni-Cu-PGE-(Au-Te) system during the breakup of Pangea – Implications for craton margin metal and volatile transfer in the lower crust, Lithos, Volumes 388–389, 2021, 106079, ISSN 0024-4937,