It is an inconvenient truth that the transition to carbon-neutral economies has triggered the biggest mining boom in human history – after all how are you connected to solar and wind farms? Crucial to the transition are a range of so-called critical metals which obviously include Li and Cu, as well as Fe and Al. The global distributions of all of these, as well as the processes we need to extract them, all depend upon high energy chemical transformation of one material into another. We can learn about these transformations by applying well-integrated experimental and analytical approaches glued together by high resolution X-ray micro-computed tomography, or XCT.
Here we will look at some of our published XCT studies of high temperature gas-solid reactions related to removal of SO2 from flue gases through to how copper resources developed in ancient volcanoes – a question that underpins how we explore for the resources that we need for the carbon transition now and into the future. These are a mesmerizing interaction of chemical and physical processes from the micro to the macro-scale which I hope will trigger a discussion of some new ways that Materials Physicists would tackle these problems down to molecular scales.