Experts urge swift UK tech metals strategy
Securing critical raw materials key to green revolution plan Metal Tech News – April 1, 2021
Last updated 4/12/2021 at 5:24am
Critical materials experts from the University of Birmingham are urging the United Kingdom to take quick action to ensure Britain has a stable supply of technology-critical metals essential for its transition to clean energy.
"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," said Sir John Beddington, chief scientific adviser to the UK government from 2008 to 2013.
Technology-critical metals such as rare earths, lithium, and cobalt are essential for emerging clean-energy technologies including electric vehicle batteries, and permanent magnets used in efficient motors and generators. Demand for these materials is expected to grow exponentially over the next 20 years as a result of a global race toward next-generation clean-energy technologies.
The UK put its hat in that race last November with a 10-point plan for a green revolution that involves:
• Ban internal combustion vehicles by 2030 and offer grants for electric cars.
• Quadruple offshore wind power by 2030.
• Invest in next-generation nuclear power generation.
• Boost production of low-carbon hydrogen.
• Funding for carbon capture initiatives.
• Advance low-carbon aviation and maritime technologies.
• Funding to make homes and public buildings more energy efficient.
• Promote green public transportation such as cycling and walking.
• A nature conservation effort that includes large-scale tree planting.
• Elevate London as the global center of green finance.
Securing a reliable source of technology metals will be essential to meeting the objectives of this plan, according to experts from the Birmingham Centre for Strategic Elements and Critical Materials, part of the University's Birmingham Energy Institute.
A new policy report produced by the Commission on Securing Technology-Critical Metals for Britain and authored by academics from the Birmingham Centre for Strategic Elements and Critical Materials highlights the need for the UK to develop a proactive strategy in its acquisition and management of these highly demanded critical raw materials needed for low-carbon energy and transportation.
"It is important to recognize the consequences that supply constraints on technology-critical metals could have on our future prosperity," said Sir Beddington, who chairs the commission. "Whilst there are immediate challenges that we face, we can anticipate more in the future – it is essential to be prepared."
According to the report, "Securing Technology-Critical Metals for Britain," the UK needs to establish critical mineral strategies that keep it on pace with the European Union, United States, Japan, China, and other nations.
"Securing adequate material supply is critical to securing our place in the race to develop clean energy technologies," said Birmingham Professor Allan Walton, a co-director of the Birmingham Centre for Strategic Elements and Critical Materials and one of the authors of the report. "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."
Paul Anderson, also a Birmingham Centre for Strategic Elements and Critical Materials co-director and co-author of the report, says securing technology metals supplies and the ability to convert those raw materials into the chemicals, cathodes, alloys, and magnets are equally important pieces to Britain's green energy puzzle.
"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," he said.
The 84-page technology-critical metals report identifies several key approaches to solving UK's critical materials challenge:
• Prioritize 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 to 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.
• Create a single body responsible for developing access to critical materials and developing effective collaboration between key government departments.
Sir Beddington said the Birmingham Centre for Strategic Elements and Critical Materials and the other industrial experts involved hope the report will serve as a catalyst for raising the profile of the technology metals needed by the UK.
"There are promising signs that we are headed in the right direction – whilst the UK has not yet published a publicly articulated strategy around technology-critical metals, we note through our networks that there is vigilance around this issue and plans afoot to formulate policy in this area," he wrote in the preface of the report.
The University of Birmingham and the Commission on Securing Technology-Critical Metals for Britain.