The UK produces one tonne of carbon-free iron per day, which is only a tiny fraction of the amount consumed.
As the expo’s motto states, “forging a sustainable future” and “accelerating the digital transition” will only be possible with the mobilisation of the entire sector. In his introductory statement, Lord Redesdale pointed out that there is still a proverbial mountain to climb before we reach net zero.
Legislative changes will come into force very soon, such as the automatic reporting of CO2 emissions for each company. It will soon be possible to compare companies according to their CO2 emissions, via a simplified register available on the metal council’s website. This data is particularly important for the energy-intensive metals sector, but also for all other companies, which want to establish their carbon footprint and know how much their raw materials account for in terms of greenhouse gases emissions.
Initiatives to improve reparability and recyclability of electronic equipment will reduce the need for metals in the near future. One of the major problems with recycling is the collection process, as the items to be recycled are scattered among many consumers and difficult to concentrate and bring to the recycling centres. DEFRA considers that a large majority of products will become available as a service in the coming decades. This development has the potential to greatly improve the recyclability, durability and recycling rates of metals. It was one of the solutions discussed in a debate on “Who Owns Metals?” at the recent Met4Tech project meeting and sparks session.
In his address to participants, Jeff Townsend of the Critical Mineral Association spoke about the UK’s recently established Critical Mineral Strategy. Jeff reminded the audience of the important role played by China, which produces the vast majority of critical metals. China currently absorbs 35% of the lithium produced in China, but is likely to absorb 85% by 2030. This shift in consumption to China has raised concerns about the availability of raw materials for the battery sector in other countries.
Facing this situation, the EU and US have chosen to build up strategic stocks of critical metals. The UK’s approach to critical raw materials is downstream focused. The UK is enacting transformations in supply chains that will increasingly move from global to local. This strategy was visible at the UK Metal Expo, with many innovations for recycling. EMR, for example, showed that recycling steel from decommissioned buildings can reduce the amount of carbon emitted by 20 times compared to primary steel.
Industry leaders such as Glencore have outlined their strategy and believe that raw materials can be added to recycled materials to provide the amount of metals needed to achieve net zero by 2050. However, there are many difficulties to be overcome, including more complex supply chains than in the linear economy.
UK businesses are making advances in the refining of raw materials with companies such as Green Lithium who will soon be refining lithium ore in the northeast of England.
It is understood that the UK has an important role to play in the metals sector thanks to its ESG model, rich mining history, available infrastructure and the quality of research laboratories. However, it is important to secure the legacy of knowledge and experience in the field, and consolidate university programmes such as geology and chemical processing.
The UK Metals Expo exhibition brought together participants active in the metals’ sector at Birmingham’s NEC on 14th and 15th September 2022.
Authored by Guillaume Zante