Funded (UK/EU and international students)

Project code



School of the Environment, Geography, and Geosciences

Start dates

October 2023

Application deadline

12 May 2023

Applications are invited for a fully-funded 3.5 year PhD studentship to commence in October 2023 or February 2024. The project is funded by an STFC CASE Studentship.

The PhD will be based in the School of the Environment, Geography and Geosciences, and will be supervised by a team led by Dr James Darling at the University of Portsmouth, and Dr Nikolaos Apeiranthitis at industrial project partner X-Ray Minerals Ltd.

Successful applicants will receive an enhanced stipend above the UKRI standard rate for October 2023 start, full coverage of tuition fees for 3.5 years, and access to a Research Training Support Grant. During the course of the PhD, the successful applicant will spend a total of 9-months on placement with X-Ray Mineral Services, which is fully funded.

The work on this project could involve:

  • Optimization of new laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy techniques for analysis of lithium and other battery technology metals in ores and battery waste materials.
  • Study of key ores, mineral processing products and battery recycling materials to improve battery metal supply and recovery.
  • Working closely with industrial partner, X-Ray Mineral Services, throughout the project, including a total of 9-months of placement with the company.


New secure supplies and efficient approaches to recycling are urgently needed for battery technology metals, including lithium, cobalt, vanadium and rare earth elements. This requires detailed understanding of metal distribution and behaviour throughout geological processes that create ore deposits, and metallurgical processes that are used to extract metals from ores and battery wastes. However, lithium is a challenging element to analyse using many widely available laboratory techniques. This is particularly true for materials such as hydrous minerals and volatile battery wastes. As a result, it is currently very difficult to trace critical battery metal distribution and behaviour through key natural and industrial processes.

Working closely with industrial partner X-ray Mineral Services, this project aims to improve understanding of battery metals throughout the ore-deposit to battery recycling lifecycle. This will be achieved by combining advances in correlative microscopy of complex materials (e.g. Darling et al., 2021, 10.1016/j.gca.2020.11.007), with the application of a new femtosecond laser ablation and laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (femto-LA-LIBS) system at Portsmouth that opens up new opportunities for microscale geochemical analysis of beam-sensitive materials. 

LIBS is both highly sensitive to the analysis of key battery technology metals (especially lithium), and a rapid characterization tool with potential for integration throughout mineral and battery waste processing systems. The project will develop new femto-LA-LIBS approaches for a range of industrially important materials, and apply these to case studies of ore systems, mineral processing and lithium-ion battery recycling. 

The student will gain an interdisciplinary skillset that positions them at the forefront of research into natural and engineered materials, including training in advanced electron microscopy, laser ablation, LIBS and ICP-MS. 

The outcomes will help to address key challenges in the UK Critical Minerals Strategy, and meet UN Sustainable Development goals in energy, economic growth, industry and recycling.

Entry requirements

You'll need a good first degree from an internationally recognised university (minimum upper second class or equivalent, depending on your chosen course) or a Master’s degree in an appropriate subject. In exceptional cases, we may consider equivalent professional experience and/or qualifications. English language proficiency at a minimum of IELTS band 6.5 with no component score below 6.0.

The project will suit a candidate with a keen interest in applied analytical chemistry, including geochemistry, laboratory analysis, and geological materials. Full training in the required analytical techniques will be provided. Prior experience with electron microscopy, laser ablation, LIBS, and/or ICP-MS is not required, but would be advantageous.

How to apply

We’d encourage you to contact Dr James Darling ( to discuss your interest before you apply, quoting the project code.

When you are ready to apply, you can use our online application form. Make sure you submit a personal statement, proof of your degrees and grades, details of two referees, proof of your English language proficiency and an up-to-date CV.  Our ‘How to Apply’ page offers further guidance on the PhD application process.

If you want to be considered for this funded PhD opportunity you must quote project code SEGG8000423 when applying.