At last, we have a UK strategy for critical minerals!
‘Resilience for the Future: The United Kingdom’s Critical Minerals Strategy’ was published on 22 July 2022. Although it does not come with announcement of new funding, the strategy sets out pragmatic developments for these critical resources.
The strategy contains three overarching actions:
- Accelerate growth of the UK’s domestic capabilities. This includes incorporating circular economy approaches following new primary production from within the UK by making longer and better use of resources in circulation and catching the critical materials already available at products’ end of life by recycling.
- We have research in the Met4Tech Centre that is directly applicable to this aim, ranging from the technical and regulatory research in the Cornwall case study to the whole value system approach of our technology metals CE roadmap.
- Collaborate with international partners. Canada, USA, South Korea and Australia are named, and Partnerships with developing countries are given significant emphasis.
- Met4Tech already have links with many relevant countries. For example, the Chair of our Independent Advisory Board, Rod Eggert, is Deputy Director of the Critical Materials Institute in the USA; and Mkango, another Project Partner, are developing a rare earth deposit in Malawi. This part of the strategy will shape our plans for more overseas collaborative links. See a full list of our Project Partners.
- Enhance international markets to make them more responsive, transparent and responsible.
- Research from our ongoing Met4Tech case studies and research on responsible innovation will help inform continuous updates to the Critical Minerals Strategy.
The formation and funding of a new Critical Minerals Intelligence Centre at the British Geological Survey (BGS) was announced a few weeks ago and this will be able to build directly on the virtual observatory research of Met4Tech thematic area one.
Critical minerals provide essential ingredients throughout all our manufacturing industries, including all of the low carbon technologies like electric vehicles, wind turbines and solar panels that we need to combat climate change.
Wind and sun may be freely available, but we can’t generate one watt of power without the devices to harness these resources. Specialist elements like lithium, cobalt and rare earths in low carbon technologies are economically vital. With supplies coming from just a few localities worldwide and needing to increase rapidly in the next few years, the supply chain to our manufacturers is vulnerable to disruptions.
It is essential that the UK improves resilience of its critical minerals supply chains if we want to meet our Net Zero targets, and especially if we want to preserve and enhance UK manufacturing of the technologies needed to do this.
The strategy also mentions skills development and the need to determine a critical minerals skills blueprint. It was fantastic to see a mention of the Camborne School of Mines, as the UK’s multidisciplinary mining school, based in Cornwall. The strategy recognises that a circular economy requires a wide range of skills from the physical, engineering and materials sciences to nature-based, societal and law disciplines.
There is certainly much that can be done straight away, with some focused effort and cross government support, to instigate the UK Critical Mineral Strategy proposals. However, the absence of dedicated funding may hinder substantive actions to create and sustain strong joined-up value chains for the benefit of the UK in the long term.
At Met4Tech we have already started on the work required to realise the UK’s strategic goals for a resilient, circular economy for technology metals.
Two Met4Tech academics, Allan Walton from University of Birmingham (School of Metallurgy and Materials) and Frances Wall, University of Exeter (Camborne School of Mines) serve on the Expert Panel for the Critical Minerals Strategy, as does Met4Tech independent advisory board member, Richard Herrington (Natural History Museum) and project partners Jeremy Wrathall (Cornish Lithium), Ian Higgins (Less Common Metals), Emma Schofield (Johnson Matthey), Sarah Gordon (Satarla), and British Geological Society Director Karen Hanghoj (BGS). The Critical Minerals Association, another Met4Tech project partner, have been influential in providing information and ideas for the strategy.
Link to the strategy: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/uk-critical-mineral-strategy