The government has published the UK’s first ever Critical Minerals Strategy in response to concerns about the resilience of supply chains for key materials such as graphite, lithium and silicon.
Critical minerals are vital, often irreplaceable, components in a wide range of products from smart phones and laptops to aircraft, as well as rapidly growing, future-critical industries such as electric vehicle manufacturing and offshore wind.
Global production of critical minerals is expected to rise sharply by 2050, some by as much as 500 per cent. However, supply chains for many of these materials are complex and volatile, with most sourced from just a handful of countries – China being by far the most dominant.
According to research commissioned by government, the 18 minerals of highest criticality to UK companies are:
- Antimony (used in flame retardants, lead-acid batteries and lead alloys)
- Bismuth (used in chemicals, low-melting allows and metallurgical additives)
- Cobalt (used in lithium-ion batteries, Ni-based alloys and tool materials)
- Gallium (used in integrated circuits, lighting and CIGS solar cells)
- Graphite (used in steelmaking, foundries and batteries)
- Indium (used in flat panel displays, solders and photovoltaics)
- Lithium (used in lithium-ion batteries, ceramics/glass and lubricating greases)
- Magnesium (used in automotive manufacture, packaging and construction)
- Niobium (used in construction, automotive and stainless steel)
- Palladium (used in autocatalysts, electronics and chemicals)
- Platinum (used in autocatalysts, jewellery and chemicals manufacture)
- Rare earth elements (used in magnets, catalysts and polishing compounds)
- Silicon (used in chemicals, aluminium alloys and photovoltaics)
- Tantalum (used in capacitors, electronics and super-alloys)
- Tin (used in solders, chemicals and tinplate)
- Tungsten (used in milling/cutting tools, construction/mining tools and other wear tools)
- Vanadium (used in high-strength low-alloy (HSLA) steel and super-alloys).
Given rising concerns around recent market shocks and geopolitical events, ensuring UK firms have a resilient and sustainable access to these minerals has become a national security priority for policymakers.
The government’s new Critical Minerals Strategy sets out plans to develop more robust supplies across three themes:
- Accelerating the UK’s domestic capabilities by maximising domestic production (such as lithium in Cornwall) and accelerating the circular economy through increased recovery, reuse and recycling rates
- Collaborating with diplomatic and trading partners to diversify supply across the world and improve transparency
- Enhancing international markets to reduce vulnerability to disruption and ‘level the playing field’ for responsible businesses, partly by championing London as the world’s capital for responsible finance for critical minerals.
Business and Energy Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said:
“With rising geopolitical threats, Britain needs to move quickly to secure the rare earth minerals necessary to supply our future industries. We need to develop and strengthen our own supply chains to protect our national security into the future.
“Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine is a timely reminder of how global events beyond our control can impact supply chains, with profound consequences for the economy. To boost our domestic resilience, [the] Critical Minerals Strategy lays out our plan to bring high value manufacturing back to the UK to protect our country’s future access to supplies.”