University of Queensland researchers report studying ancient ocean floors could help us discover the minerals needed to produce electric cars and solar panels.

The researchers led a collaborative study that examined the remnants of ocean floors in eastern Australia and central Asia and applied a method to date the age of calcite trapped inside.

Reconstruction of Panthalassan seamount OPS at its times of formation and accretion to Gondwana. Accr. Accretionary, Bas. Bashkirian, Famen. Famennian, MORB Mid-ocean ridge basalt, OIB Ocean island basalt, Ser. Serpukhovian. Image Credit: University of Queensland. Click either or both of the study paper links below for much more information.

Dr. Renjie Zhou from UQ’s School of Earth and Environmental Sciences said the findings could make it easier to source critical minerals used in renewable and clean technologies. “Calcite and other hydrothermal minerals are often observed in critical mineral deposits and form under mineralizing fluid activities. Our work shows that we can trace the history of fluids in the Earth’s crust and see when and what mineral resources they might generate,” he explained.

The renewable energy sector is continuing to grow rapidly with increasing demand for technologies like wind turbines, solar panels, electric vehicles and batteries. “These often require large quantities of critical minerals,” he noted. “Electric vehicles need up to four times more copper than conventional cars and a single wind turbine uses several tons of permanent magnets made of rare earth metals.”

Dr. Zhou commented that being able to study and discover these minerals was going to become increasingly important.

“Researchers across many institutions are doing excellent work in this field, including UQ’s Centre for Geoanalytical Mass Spectrometry,” Dr Zhou said. “Our hope is to expand our collaboration with industry and academia to increase the understanding and discovery of critical minerals in the future.”

There are two published research papers explaining the work at Queensland. They are both available without a paywall and are just fascinating. One is “Calcite U–Pb dating of altered ancient oceanic crust in the North Pamir, Central Asia” published in Geochronology. The second is “Paleozoic ocean plate stratigraphy unraveled by calcite U-Pb dating of basalt and biostratigraphy” published in Communications Earth & Environment.


The study abstracts are quite helpful in grasping what the Queensland team is up to. For now the common and rare earth supplies are plentiful enough, but not so much as to be low cost. That makes this team’s work quite important as demand is going to increase while supplies remain hopefully, constant and grow.

This work is the scientific way to increase discoveries. Today there are some mineral deposits available but are behind the “not in my backyard” barrier. One hopes this work will turn up some supplies without any close up neighbors to stop development.

There is also the matter of criticality. A lot of what the free world economies need in raw material and processing is located inside authoritarian economies which exposes multiple risks in availability, cost and ultimately – security.

This is a set of problems not likely to go away anytime soon.


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