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Rare earth sustainability critical for green revolution

Investment in the supply of rare earths, including better waste management and recycling, is essential if the UK is going to undergo a green industrial revolution, according to a new report.

A stable supply of technology-critical metals (TCMs) such as rare earths, lithium and cobalt is 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 the global race towards next generation clean-energy technologies.

The conclusions come in a new report produced by the University of Birmingham, ‘Securing Technology-Critical Metals for Britain’. It was produced in collaboration with leading academic, industry and public sector experts representing affected industries including automotive, aerospace, offshore wind, pharmaceuticals, metals processing, and recycling.

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.

The report identifies several key approaches to the challenge:

  • 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
  • Review waste management law with a view to removing barriers to recycling and reusing technology-critical metals
  • Prioritise TCMs in research and innovation strategies
  • Seek opportunities to diversify access to critical material sources, including collaborating with other nations
  • Establish a UK Technology-Critical Metals Observatory to act as a central information point for government
  • Create a single body responsible for developing access to critical materials and developing effective collaboration between key government departments

Chairman Sir John Beddington says the UK’s ability to deliver on its international commitments will be enabled or constrained by our access to the TCMs that underpin the clean energy transition.

‘It is important to recognise the consequences that supply constraints on TCMs 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.’One of the report authors, Professor Allan Walton, adds: 

‘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.’

A discussion of the report will be held online on 27 April. Register here!

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