Critical Metals - Science for a Secure Supply

Lead Research Organisation: NERC British Geological Survey
Department Name: Minerals & Waste

Abstract

Project summary
There are growing global concerns over the long-term availability of secure supplies of metals needed by society. Metal consumption is increasing as a result of burgeoning global population and the requirements of new and/or environmental technologies. Of particular concern are the 'critical metals', so called because of their growing economic importance and high risk of supply shortage. Most 'critical' to the UK and EU are antimony, beryllium, cobalt, gallium, germanium, indium, lithium, magnesium, niobium, platinum group metals, rare earth elements, rhenium, tantalum and tungsten.

Several countries (e.g. USA, Japan, South Korea) are developing strategies to address these risks, based on diversifying the global supply chain, improving knowledge of and access to indigenous resources, and boosting substitution and recycling. In the UK the House of Commons Committee on Science and Technology has highlighted that accurate and reliable information on the potential scarcity of metals should be made available to help businesses plan to mitigate these risks.

This project aims to provide an authoritative, accessible and sustainable knowledge base on critical metals to underpin economic growth, contribute to green technology innovation, reduce resource risks to business, improve national security and enhance the competitiveness of UK PLC. It will promote effective knowledge exchange between industry (extractive, processing and manufacturing), the investment community, government, regulators, academia and other stakeholder groups on all aspects of the life cycle of critical metals to identify key issues relating to supply security and environmental limits. It will thus contribute to the development of coordinated national policies for the critical metals and identify the actions needed for their implementation including associated programmes of research.

The project will involve:
1. Publication of a Critical Metals Handbook, to provide a unique, authoritative, one-stop source of information on diverse aspects of the critical metals, including geology, deposits, processing, applications, environmental issues, markets and future supply-demand scenarios. It will be written for the non-specialist by international experts.
2. Holding Critical Metals KE workshops, to promote dialogue among all stakeholder groups concerned with the critical metals supply chain. These will disseminate the core knowledge from the Handbook and will provide industry sectors that rely on critical metals, such as aerospace, clean energy and automotive, with the opportunity to identify key issues of concern. A synthesis report will identify the challenges for raw material supply over various timescales, the key areas in which breakthroughs are required and recommended action plans.
3. Development of new web pages for the non-specialist, to provide essential background information on critical metals and on the key issues related to their security of supply.

The completed project will provide a foundation for the continuing provision of analysis and advice to users throughout the metals supply chain and for promoting ongoing dialogue with government. It will also facilitate the development of cross-sectoral linkages, bringing industry users into contact with specialist researchers from all parts of the supply chain, to contribute to the development of a coherent integrated critical metals strategy.

Planned Impact

Impact summary

This project deals with a group of metals which are of increasing economic importance, but about which there are increasing concerns over long-term availability. Consequently the project is broad in scope and reach, but it will bring important benefits for a broad spectrum of stakeholder groups. It will advance knowledge and understanding of all aspects of the life cycle of critical metals among users in industry (extractive, processing and manufacturing), the investment community, government, regulators, academia and the general public. It will provide an authoritative, accessible and sustainable knowledge base on critical metals to underpin economic growth, contribute to green technology innovation, reduce resource risks to business, improve national security and enhance the competitiveness of UK PLC. It will thus inform the development of coordinated national policies for the critical metals and contribute to the identification of the actions needed for their implementation including associated programmes of research.

The sustainable and easily accessible knowledge base derived from the project will contribute to a well-informed, broad-based and responsive stakeholder community. It has been designed to encourage the further development of inter-disciplinary, multi-institutional research partnerships to address all parts of the critical metal life-cycle, from origins in the Earth's crust, through extraction, processing, use and re-cycling, through to their ultimate fate in the natural environment. The knowledge base generated should also improve the teaching of critical metals issues to under- and post-graduate students.

Industry will benefit from improved understanding and management of resource risks. For example, businesses in the aerospace sector need to quantify the likelihood of disruption to supply to feed into design requirements. In the clean energy sector, industry needs to have a clear understanding of the resource implications of greatly expanded capacity. For example, the proposed manufacture and installation of numerous additional wind turbines offshore UK will require large quantities of the rare earths, neodymium and dysprosium.

Government and regulators will benefit from improved horizon scanning to inform the development of policies for which critical metals security of supply may be an issue. For example, industrial/economic policy to improve competitiveness and economic growth, foreign policy which recognises the importance of access to raw materials, defence policy which acknowledges to role of critical metals in national security and defence procurement, and environmental policy which recognises the importance of critical metals to delivery of a green economy and has a better understanding of the environmental impacts of resource use.

The outputs from the project will also contribute to the use of more robust and consistent risk assessment methodologies, which will lead to better research, policy and investment decisions. For example, we are aware that alarmist forecasts of impending physical depletion of some metals may be influencing the direction of research in the clean energy sector.

The knowledge base established in this project will also provide industry with an improved appreciation of geopolitical risks to supply disruption and thus will assist the development of sound strategies to mitigate these risks and ensure sustainable supply for key manufacturing sectors. The project will also help to identify new research and business opportunities in advanced manufacturing, metals recycling and green technologies.

The knowledge base and networks developed by the project will enhance competiveness of UK research and business sector in advanced manufacturing and green technologies where there are considerable opportunities for the UK's specialist metals and alloys manufacturing and recycling sector to expand and innovate.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Title Tungsten: cutting edge and critical 
Description A 9 minute video designed to inform the general public about the use of mineral resources in everyday life and where they are sourced. The focus is on minor/critical metals used in new and green technologies such as tungsten 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2012 
Impact Impacts not known 
URL http://www.bgs.ac.uk/mineralsuk/statistics/criticalRawMaterials.html
 
Description The research team that I led has expanded its knowledge and understanding of critical metals and issues around their security of supply. We have subsequently engaged with a wide range of stakeholders, in government, industry and academia, on various aspects of these issues.
Exploitation Route The Critical Metals Handbook was the major output from this work. It is a primer, written by international experts, that provides an introduction to many aspects of supply and demand for critical metals. It is intended to be accessible to the layman, but numerous additional references are provided to facilitate in-depth research.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Agriculture, Food and Drink,Chemicals,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Electronics,Energy,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology,Transport

 
Description Membership of EC Ad Hoc Working Group on Critical Raw Materials
Geographic Reach Europe 
Policy Influence Type Membership of a guideline committee
Impact There is a very high level of interest, especially in the advanced economies, on securing adequate and sustainable supplies of metals and minerals needed by society particularly for use in new and 'green' technologies. Accordingly the EC, guided by its Ad Hoc Working Group on Critical Raw Materials, has twice (in 2010 and 2014) published lists of minerals and metals regarded as critical to the EU economy. These lists have influenced policy aimed at securing sustainable supplies in numerous ways: for example, by identifying new resources of, and substitutes for, the critical raw materials, by promoting recycling and by developing trade policies for procurement of the required materials from overseas sources. The policies have been developed in tandem with major EC research programmes covering all aspects of the life cycle of individual raw materials, from the formation of deposits, to mineral exploration and mining, to extractive metallurgy, manufacturing, use, re-use, recycling and disposal.
URL http://ec.europa.eu/growth/sectors/raw-materials/specific-interest/critical/index_en.htm
 
Description Membership of a consortium of consultants commissioned by the EC to review the list of raw materials critical to the EU economy. Raw materials identified as critical to the EU are given high priority in EU policy and research to ensure their future security of supply which is required for the EU economy.
Geographic Reach Europe 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a national consultation
URL https://ec.europa.eu/growth/sectors/raw-materials/specific-interest/critical_en