Industry must have confidence that it can access the necessary raw materials to move towards sustainable low-carbon markets, UK business and trade minister Nadhim Zahawi said at the launch of the UK All Party Parliamentary Group on Critical Minerals in London yesterday.
Representatives from mining projects for lithium, tungsten, rare earths and tin were among the attendees at the event, which also marked the launch of a new industry organisation — the Critical Minerals Association (CMA) — which will head up the parliamentary group. It aims to bring together the entire supply chain for critical metals. “The CMA will work to ensure that future policy recommendations to the government are designed by the industry,” CMA founder and mining political consultant Jeff Townsend said.
Access to battery metals cobalt and lithium and to rare earth magnet metals is a pressure point for the transition to electrification of the transport system and renewable energy, which will see steep increases in physical demand in the coming years. “We live in an increasingly uncertain world with just a few countries that supply those minerals,” MP Steve Double said.
China invested heavily in the sector for decades and is now the world’s largest supplier of critical metals and finished components. Trade and technology wars, economic uncertainty and the impact of the coronavirus have exposed the fragility of the global supply chains for the little-known metals that power the internet and which are vital to the automotive and renewables sectors, as well as the electrification of the transport system and many other industrial and defence applications.
“On its own, domestic supply will never provide full security but the potential to become self-sufficient in lithium which Cornish mining represents will I think be incredibly important to the British economy,” Zahawi said.
The experiences of the rare earths sector have clearly demonstrated that raw material supply is not enough without the downstream processing capability and component manufacturing to consume it. “It is very sad to say that there is no sintered [rare earth] magnet production in the UK today and there is only one magnet maker in Europe that can make magnets for electric vehicles,” said Ian Higgins, managing director of UK-based rare earth metal and alloy maker Less Common Metals. “We would like to see low-cost electricity zones for stimulating UK industry. We need to incentivise a magnet maker to make it attractive for them to set up here,” he added.
By Caroline Messecar