September 3rd 2018

Minerals and materials research lab to open in Trondheim

An atom probe is coming to Trondheim. This instrument provides an atomic analysis of minerals and other material. Future production of batteries, solar cells, wind turbines will depend on such instruments. Photo: Max-Planck-Institut fuer Eisenforschung.
Mineral and material research is important for a transition to a greener economy. The Geological Survey of Norway, NTNU and SINTEF have joined forces to establish a national laboratory in Trondheim to meet that need.

Green technologies, specialized minerals and materials. Solar panels, super magnets, batteries and new building materials are being developed from raw and other materials with very unique properties and qualities. 

To this end, it is necessary for researchers to conduct detailed examinations of materials and minerals - often down to the atomic level - to better understand the qualities and properties of a substance. This is what researchers call characterization.  

A national laboratory for characterizing minerals and advanced materials is currently being established in Trondheim. It is called the Norwegian Laboratory for Mineral and Materials Characterisation (MiMaC), with NTNU, NGU and SINTEF at the helm of its creation. 

From minerals to raw materials 

- With MiMaC we can research the entire value chain, from mineral to finished materials, says Jostein Mårdalen, who heads NTNU’s Department of Materials Technology. 

The results from the laboratory will contribute to developing even better methods to create materials from minerals. 

- We can also help manufacture products and raw materials with tailor-made properties for specific applications

Project manager Jostein Mårdalen (left), together with Yanjun Yi (right) who is responsible for the new MiMaC laboratory. Both are from NTNU.  

Mårdalen explains why it’s useful for researchers to look at the entire value chain. 

- There’s a reciprocal relationship between minerals and materials: The mineral industry has to deliver new minerals and mineral products with new qualities when the need for them arises in the materials industry. At the same time, the materials industry has to exploit the resources and opportunities found in the mineral industry. With MiMaC we can develop and improve that collaboration.

- In addition, we can help ensure that extraction and production happens in an environmentally friendly and efficient way,” says Mårdalen.

Through the eye of a needle

Last year, MiMaC was one of nineteen projects that made it through the eye of the needle to receive funding from the Research Council of Norway’s national financing initiative for research infrastructure. A total of 92 projects applied for funds in 2017.  Mårdalen believes two factors led to their research project receiving NOK 71 million from the Research Council. Mårdalen believes two factors led to their research project receiving NOK 71 million from the Research Council. 


Bildet viser et 0,03 millimeter tykt tverrsnitt av en gneis fra Rogaland. Slike bilder kan forskere se i mikroskop.
In the photo above, is a 0.03 millimeters microscope thin section of Gneiss from Rogaland.  

A large portion of MicMac’s budget will go to purchasing laboratory equipment, the most costly being the atom probe which is priced at around 40 million kroner. 

- The atom probe allows us to dissect a sample to see exactly what atoms there are. We can create a 3D model where very single atom in the sample is identified. This type of equipment makes the laboratory a world leader in the field and is well worth the investment. Being able to see every single atom in a sample demonstrate how extremely powerful the atom probe is, says Mårdalen. 

Valuable collaboration

Henrik Schiellerup
Henrik Schiellerup, NGU

Henrik Schiellerup from the Geological Survey of Norway (NGU) says that MiMaC will also be of major importance for NGU’s mineral researchers. 

- The MiMaC instruments will play an important role as a common platform for mineral and materials research, he says.  

- With MiMaC, we’ll be able to bring together the best expertise from two fields that have a lot in common. We hope that establishing MiMaC will lead to more collaboration between institutions and related disciplines, says Schiellerup. 

Important in the shift to a greener world

- We need ever more specialized and tailor-made materials. Today, we could build the Eiffel Tower more than twice as high with the same amount of steel – which shows how far we’ve come. And development won’t stop here, says Schiellerup. 

The transition to greener technologies is high on the agenda for both mineral and material researchers. 

- We’re completely dependent on new minerals and materials to help us transition to greener technologies, like better solar panels, wind turbines and smart buildings. These are the challenges that the new laboratory technology will help solve, he says.  

MiMaC will be operational in 2019.