Professor Gawen Jenkin, University of Leicester
We need mineral resources to underpin a good quality of life for the still-expanding population of planet Earth. Although we might ultimately develop a “circular economy” where all resources are recycled, this is a long way off and we will need to continue to extract minerals for many years to come. However, the mining industry is under a variety of pressures, both geological and anthropogenic, which make it ever harder to operate economically. The industry needs to be moving to more sustainable operations, in particular reducing carbon emissions and ensuring it earns the consent of the local and global communities – the so called Social Licence to Operate.
At Leicester, we have developed an exciting breakthrough technology using ionic liquids that has the potential to revolutionise the processing of mineral ores to metals in a green and environmentally-friendly way. We have the potential to replace the use of cyanide in industrial gold extraction and the uncontrolled use of mercury by artisanal gold miners – one of the biggest sources of mercury contamination on the planet. Ultimately, the mine of the future, might not involve a hole in the ground or people going underground and have a considerably smaller impact on our environment.
The talk is aimed to be accessible for non-specialists.
Background reading: Abbott AP, Al-Bassam AZM,Goddard A, Harris RC, Jenkin GRT, Nisbett F & Wieland M (2017). Dissolution of Pyrite and other Fe-S-As minerals using Deep Eutectic Solvents. Green Chemistry, 19, 2225-2233, DOI: 10.1039/C7GC00334J.
Gawen grew up in Cornwall surrounded by the legacy of what was once one of the richest mining areas in the world, and was fortunate to be able to study A-level Geology at the Humphry Davy Grammar School, Penzance. After his Geology degree in Nottingham he did his PhD in Glasgow on ancient geothermal systems in Connemara. He liked Scotland so much he stayed as a postdoc/research fellow for another nine years working at the Scottish Universities Research and Reactor Centre on isotope geochemistry and its application to mineralising and metamorphic processes.
Taking up a lectureship at Leicester in 1997 Gawen has taught Mineral Deposit Geology and Genesis and in 2009 was awarded a Distinguished University Teaching Fellowship “In recognition of his inspiring and imaginative teaching and his involvement in national initiatives which promote student learning in Geology.” He has been Schools Liaison and Student Recruitment Tutor for Geology since 2003 and estimates he has given more than 300 talks on Open Days and school visits. Recently he has been an adviser to the exam boards for the new Geology A/AS and GCSE qualifications.
His research in geochemistry has continued on areas as diverse as arsenic in human toenails (and in earthworms), the “Snowball Earth” in Ethiopia, and natural CO2 sequestration, as well as gold mineralisation in Scotland and the Solomon Islands and copper in Cyprus. Recently he has developed a new field of mineral processing in collaboration with Leicester Chemistry which forms the topic of this talk.