The UK government has committed to bring all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050, catalysing substantial growth in the clean energy sector.
As a result, the demand for materials such as rare earths, used in magnets, cobalt, used in lithium ion batteries and platinum group metals that are key to clean energy technologies, continues to increase as we move to a carbon-neutral society.
The UK must act now to ensure a stable supply of technology-critical metals (TCMs) essential for its transition to clean energy and the delivery of its ten point plan for a green industrial revolution, according to a new Policy Commission report produced by the University of Birmingham.
The report highlights the need for the UK to develop a proactive strategy in its acquisition and management of these materials, to keep pace with other national strategies such as those developed by the US, Japan, the EU and China.
Sir John Beddington commented:
Our ability to deliver on our international commitments will doubtless be enabled or constrained by our access to the technology-critical metals that underpin the clean energy transition. It is important to recognise the consequences that supply constraints on technology-critical metals could have on our future prosperity. Whilst there are immediate challenges that we face, we can anticipate more in the future – it is essential to be prepared.”
Professor Allan Walton, Co-Director of the BCSECM and one of the report’s authors, said:
Securing adequate material supply is critical to securing our place in the race to develop clean energy technologies. Establishing strategies for obtaining raw materials, together with strategic investment in processing technologies able to convert both primary and secondary sources of materials into high-performance components, will be a crucial step.”
Fellow BCSECM Co-director and report author, Dr Paul Anderson, commented:
Supply of raw materials is one part of the jigsaw. Equally important is building the capabilities required to convert raw materials into the chemicals, cathodes, alloys or magnets required by original equipment manufacturers. Developing processing technologies that can both produce these components from raw materials, and recycle them from used materials, will be necessary for the delivery of the government’s ten point plan for a green industrial revolution.”
The report identifies several key approaches to the critical materials challenge:
- Prioritise technology-critical metals in UK Research and Innovation strategies;
- Seek opportunities to diversify access to critical material sources, including collaborating with other nations to expand the global supply chain;
- Invest in the UK’s ability and capacity to process technology-critical metals at both first use and recycling stages; this will reduce reliance on overseas supply chains;
- Establish a UK Technology-Critical Metals Observatory to act as a central information point for government;
- Review waste management law with a view to removing barriers to recycling and reusing technology-critical metals; and
- Create a single body responsible for developing access to critical materials and developing effective collaboration between key government departments.