The national launch of the Circular Economy Centre for Technology Metals (Met4Tech) took place as a digital session on May 25th. The event saw over 100 attendees from industry and business, academia and research, and government and policy coming together to discuss the future of sustainable mineral production, recovery, recycling, and stewardship in the UK.
Prof. Frances Wall (Exeter) opened the event with an overview of the centre’s goal, to develop a roadmap to a UK circular economy for technological metals, and the key role of interdisciplinary study in achieving this. The scene was set with presentations from industry experts. Dr Edmund Ward (BEIS) set out the importance of technology metals to the UK government strategy for achieving net zero through low carbon energy, low carbon industrial solutions and improved resource and material efficiency.
Lucy Crane (Cornish Lithium) outlined the state of UK technology metal resources, the development of critical lithium resources in Cornwall and the need for transparent and vertically integrated technology metal supply chains. A continental perspective was provided by Dr Peter Buchholtz (DERA), who discussed the need for an expansion of the current focus on primary material flows to include recycling and reuse. Peter further highlighted the necessity to understand the flows of technology metals due to their importance as enablers for future technologies including e-mobility, renewable energy generation, smart cities, light-weight construction, and next generation quantum computers.
The event was centred around breakout discussion of four hypothetical future technology metal resource scenarios for the UK. These scenarios ranged geographically from local to global solutions and economically from linear to circular. The breakout groups were fascinating, with lively debate and discussion of the merits of the scenarios and how we can make our preferred scenarios reality. Polling of the attendees showed that the preferred future scenario would be a global circular economy where the UK plays a key role to build international governance structures and ensures access to new sources of technology metals combined with robust recycling and reuse of technology metals. However, when asked which was the most likely scenario it was a close result between a global circular economy and global linear economy in which successful acquisition of new technology metal resources alleviates the ‘perceived’ need, lowering market incentives to construct robust circular metal flows.
It was highlighted that there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ scenario for the technology metals, each having their own set of challenges and that the industrial ecosystem is multi-faceted and complex, likely requiring the meshing of both local and global circular economies.
The session concluded with an address from The Honourable Steve Double MP for St Austell & Newquay, Chair of the Critical Minerals APPG who commended the scope and goals of the Met4Tech project. The address further emphasised the key role technology metals play in the UK economy; reiterating the need for secure, ethically responsible sources of them if the UK is to meet its green ambitions.
From a Met4Tech researcher perspective, it was fantastic to see the enthusiasm for this research from the wider community. However, we also recognise that we need to do more to bring in voices from a broader audience. The debate was dominated by academics, business, and government; to tackle these global issues we need global voices that represent all stakeholders. As Met4Tech progresses we aim to include more voices and are excited about the possibilities for new collaborations to tackle the important emerging questions in this rapidly evolving subject. The challenges surrounding technology metal supply are complex and nuanced but by working together as a community we can find new and innovative solutions to them.
We are excited to see where this research takes us over the next 3 years and hope to see you all at the next Met4Tech event.
Phil & Eva