Ensuring a circular economy roadmap for tech metals

The Met4Tech project brings together leading UK academics for research that will enable an alternative circular economy to drive the transition to green energy.

Met4Tech brings together leading researchers to maximize opportunities around technology metal sourcing from primary and secondary sources, and lead material stewardship. The organization is creating a national metals technology circular economy roadmap to accelerate the UK towards a circular economy.

To achieve a net zero carbon economy, most countries have increased the production of electric vehicles (EVs), as one of the key policy measures that will contribute to cleaner energy. To power electric vehicles, a supply of critical metals, such as rare earth elements (REEs), are used in magnets for the engines and powertrain, and metals such as cobalt and lithium are needed to make the batteries. electric vehicles. These metals and many others are also used in batteries for smartphones, laptops, and consumer products, meaning they are a fundamental component of our daily lives. Because of this, it will be necessary to establish a stable circular supply chain of technology metals to ensure that supply levels can meet anticipated demand for EV battery production rates, as well as other critically important applications.

To meet this demand, the UK Critical Minerals Strategy was announced earlier this year. Through this strategy, the UK will work with international partners to accelerate the growth of our domestic supply of critical minerals.

Here, in conversation with The Innovation PlatformSeveral of Met4Tech’s developers (Carol Pettit, Frances Wall, Evi Petavratzi, Aleksandra Čavoški and Robert Lee) highlight the goals of the project and how these align with the UK government’s plans to improve our supply of critical metals.

What is the current outlook for UK tech metals? What do you need to change?

Like most other industrialized countries, the UK wants to not only meet its climate change targets by 2050, but also get involved in manufacturing low-carbon vehicles and renewable energy technologies. For the UK to seize a £2.7bn opportunity to supply battery materials and add 60,000 jobs in battery and car manufacturing, it must have responsibly sourced and safe supplies of tech metals. The value and volume of these flows of technological metals is as high as that of industrial metals; however, its functionality is sought after and essential for the delivery of high-tech applications. Without metals like REE, cobalt, tungsten, tin, and lithium, higher-value activities cannot take place.

The same applies to almost all new digital and clean technologies, as technological metals are the current key enablers for the green economy and energy transition. Many tech metals are labeled “critical” in the UK, meaning they are at risk of supply disruption. They also often have low recycling rates and little-known streams despite rapidly increasing demand.

What is Met4Tech and how does it work to accelerate a UK national supply chain for tech metals?

The UK’s new Circular Economy Center for Metals Technology (Met4Tech) will help the country maximize opportunity by sourcing technology metals from lead and secondary and primary materials stewardship, to keep these metals in use at a high value. Met4Tech brings together leading UK academics, as well as various partners from across the value chain, to engage in interdisciplinary research and policy interventions. The overall goal is to create a roadmap for an alternative circular economy (CE) system of tech metals involving all key players, agent-based modeling, strategic business models, technology forecasts, design choices, new subject practices premiums, regulatory requirements and social preferences. .

How has 2022 been for Met4Tech? What are the most outstanding achievements of the projects in which you have been involved?

The first key target of the Met4Tech project is the UK Observatory for Technological Metals, hosted by the British Geological Survey (BGS), outlining current stocks, flows and practices, including state-of-the-art CE best practice for technological metals. . as well as lay the groundwork for monitoring and tracking increases in CE-based revaluation.

There is a new detailed case study illustrating the CE principles approach to the use of new geographic models. These models analyze granite-related mineralization (lithium, tin, tungsten) and related mine waste in Cornwall, involving collaboration with mining companies and regional government partners. The research teams have built on the previous Faraday Battery Challenge and Driving the Electric Revolution (grenDER) projects in the UK to initiate many new collaborations and technology studies for Met4Tech.

Efficient metal recycling technology involves alternative approaches to the traditional crushing and pyrometallurgy/hydrometallurgy approach. Linking partners with different waste streams and processing technologies is leading to more innovative recovery techniques and circular approaches. There is also a lot of interest in our cross-cutting themes, which include:

  • Social sciences and responsible innovation;
  • Governance and regulation;
  • Environmental and life cycle assessment; Y
  • Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) Aspects for Tech Metals Supply and Value Chains.

The UK’s first critical minerals strategy was announced earlier this year. Why is this so important, and how will it affect the direction of your own work/how it aligns with your current job?

The new UK Critical Minerals Strategy outlines three broad actions that align well with Met4Tech’s research objectives. The first action is to accelerate the growth of UK domestic capabilities, which is illustrated by our technical and regulatory research in the Cornish case study, as well as the whole value system approach of our CE roadmap. of technological metals.

The second action is to collaborate with international partners, which is already happening within the Met4Tech CE Center, and our strategy is to develop more collaborative links abroad.

The third action is to improve international markets to make them more responsive, transparent and accountable, and research from our ongoing Met4Tech case studies and research on responsible innovation will help inform ongoing updates to the Critical Minerals Strategy. The formation and funding of a new Critical Minerals Intelligence Center at the BGS may also be directly based on the virtual observatory research conducted by Met4Tech.

How important is international collaboration to speed up the UK’s critical mineral supply chain?

The determination of ‘critical’ minerals for the UK and other countries depends on the national environment and considers the economic value and security of supply of these metals for various strategic applications. The global context for production and supply chains is important, and international collaborations will be essential to ensure UK access to critical technology minerals and metals.

The overall objective of Met4Tech is to co-create a roadmap towards a circular technology and metals economy for the UK in an international environment. The Met4Tech project is mainly national and there are also strong links with international groups. Researchers are looking closely at regional case studies and organizing international regulatory roundtables to discuss recent developments around the world. We are also looking to form international collaborations with various groups and centers.

Carol Pettit and Frances Wall
Camborne School of Mines
University of Exeter

Evi Petavratzi
British Geological Survey

Aleksandra Cavoski and Robert Lee
Birmingham Law School
university of birmingham

Please note that this article will also appear in the twelfth issue of our quarterly publication.

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