UK criticality assessment of technology critical minerals and metals

Lusty, P.A.J.; Shaw, R.A.; Gunn, A.G.; Idoine, N.E.. 2021 UK criticality assessment of technology critical minerals and metals. Nottingham, UK, British Geological Survey, 76pp. (CR/21/120N) (Unpublished)

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The current imperative to decarbonise means that the global economy will require a wide variety of mineral raw materials in ever-increasing quantities. It is therefore essential to know which materials are needed, in what quantities and to understand the impact of any supply disruption on the UK economy. ’Criticality assessment’ aims to identify those minerals1 which might be at risk of supply disruption and to use that information to inform the development of mitigation strategies. Criticality is generally assessed in terms of two dimensions, the likelihood of supply disruption, often termed supply risk, and the economic vulnerability of the consumer to potential supply disruption. Numerous criticality assessments have been published in the past decade employing a wide range of indicators to estimate the magnitude of supply risk and economic vulnerability. No two approaches are the same, and results differ according to who is asking the question and for what purpose. The governments of the United States (US) and the European Union (EU) are prominent in this field, having published broad criticality assessments focussed on their national needs and periodically updated since 2008. In this study, 26 candidate materials (CMs) were assessed for their potential criticality to the UK economy in terms of their global supply risk (S) and the UK economic vulnerability (V) to such a disruption. Supply security is not related to physical availability, but instead is dependent on a host of non-geological factors that may constrain access to supplies at any point in the complex and dynamic international supply chains from which they are sourced. A change in any one of these economic, environmental, technical, social and political aspects can seriously compromise supply security. Three indicators were used in this study to estimate S for each CM: production concentration, companion metal fraction and recycling rate. V was calculated from six indicators: production evolution, price volatility, substitutability, global trade concentration, UK import reliance and UK gross value added contribution. A wide range of metrics, derived from publicly accessible databases and from the scientific literature, was used to quantify each indicator for each CM. The derived scores for each indicator, were weighted according to their importance to S and V, and aggregated to produce overall estimates of S and V for each CM. Thresholds assigned to S and V were used to distinguish CM of differing levels of potential criticality. Eighteen of the 26 CMs have a ‘high’ potential criticality rating based on their values of both S and V. These constitute the UK Critical Minerals List 2021. These results are broadly comparable with those published for the US, the EU and elsewhere. Any quantitative assessment of criticality fundamentally depends on the data used for the metrics that contribute to ranking the chosen indicators. In this study the data was derived from publicly accessible databases and from the scientific literature. For indicators relying on global mineral production data, the BGS World Mineral Production database provides up-to-data high quality data directly relevant to the objectives of this study. However, although reliable data on trade partners and traded volumes are held in global and UK databases, the data for several CMs (mostly minor metals) is commonly aggregated with other commodities and thus lacks the granularity needed for this assessment. For some indicators, such as recycling rates, companion metal fraction and substitutability, there are few up-to-date compilations of the appropriate metrics. These indicators are generally dependent on more assumptions, so data quality is inevitably poorer. This preliminary assessment has highlighted the potential UK criticality of many minerals. The reliability of the findings can be improved by refinement of the methodology, including the specific indicators selected, and by assessing the availability of higher quality and UK-focussed data from a range of sources. It can also be improved by consultation with experts across the entire value chain of each CM. The most critical minerals should be prioritised for detailed studies of their entire value chains in order to determine appropriate interventions to ensure security of supply. Given the dynamic and complex nature of mineral supply chains and inherent data shortcomings, it is inevitable that such criticality assessments may fail to identify potential problems. They may also suggest that certain materials are at risk when, in fact, market forces may be able to resolve supply bottlenecks in the short or medium term. Given the continual evolution of global demand and supply patterns, certain minerals not included in this study should be considered for inclusion in future assessments. It is also important to stress that criticality assessment is based on existing data and understanding. It cannot, therefore, be used to predict future security of supply problems or trajectories of mineral demand.

Item Type: Publication - Report
Funders/Sponsors: British Geological Survey, Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy
Additional Information. Not used in RCUK Gateway to Research.: This item has been internally reviewed but not externally peer-reviewed.
Date made live: 22 Aug 2023 15:48 +0 (UTC)

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