Podcast: Geological resources in the electric vehicle revolution

Geology Research: Dr Duncan Pirrie

Dr Duncan Pirrie, Geologist

Exploration drill core from exciting new research prospect in Finland

In this research podcast, forensic geologist Dr Duncan Pirrie explains why we need to explore for new mineral deposits if we are going to achieve our ambitions for the use of electric vehicles.

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Battery technologies need minerals to supply carbon, lithium & cobalt

Hello and welcome to Sixty Seconds Spotlight. I’m Associate Professor Duncan Pirrie, a geologist at the University of South Wales. My research focuses on how minerals help society. 

Before our news became dominated by the Coronavirus pandemic, there was a lot of media coverage of the importance of climate change and how we can reduce our impact by switching from fossil fuels. 

One aspect of a low carbon future is the use of electric vehicles and governments across the world have ambitious targets for these vehicles of the future. 

What is less commonly discussed is that all of the existing battery technologies need raw materials – and these come from mining minerals for elements like carbon, lithium, cobalt and nickel. 

Let’s take cobalt as an example.  This element is rare and only naturally occurs in a few minerals.  Most cobalt today comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but future demand will completely outstrip supply.  

So, if we are to have the planned electric vehicle revolution we need to find new cobalt mineral deposits and fast – from starting exploration to opening a large mine can easily take 10 years. 

So the hunt is on.  In December 2019 I met to discuss research with Mawson Resources in Lapland, where they are exploring a potentially huge gold and cobalt deposit. 

Finland also has other nickel, carbon and lithium deposits, which makes it Europe’s future leader for battery mineral production. Only time will tell if we can find the raw materials needed and that exploration needs the geology and engineering graduates of the future. 

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About Dr Duncan Pirrie

Dr Duncan Pirrie, Geology researcher and lecturer, on location in the Azores

Duncan Pirrie is Associate Professor of Geology at University of South Wales. Prior to joining USW he was Associate Professor of Geology at the University of Exeter, before setting up a commercial consultancy company.  

Dr Duncan Pirrie has published over 115 scientific papers and books. Research on applied mineralogy has focussed on using advanced mineral analysis systems to better understand ore deposits and mineral processing. 

He was funded by the British Embassy, Finland, to lecturer at the British-Finnish Natural Resources Initiative and has joint research projects with the Finland Geological Survey. Interests include the sustainable utilisation of Earth's natural resources

You can view Dr Duncan Pirrie's research outputs here. To discuss collaborative or industrial research, please contact USW Exchange.

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