Delivering critical material ambitions - review of the 2nd annual CMA conference

Delivering critical material ambitions - review of the 2nd annual CMA conference

The Critical Minerals Association & Geological Society Business Forum hosted a conference on delivering the UK's critical minerals ambitions.

Blue View

The event attracted a large international crowd due to being at the start of Mines and Money week in London. Project Blue's analyst Luke Allum attended proceedings.  

The conference opened with a section on government strategy.  The growing importance of critical materials in terms of government priorities was attributed to recent supply chain disruptions making security of supply an issue that had finally made its way to government desks. A key theme was the need for investment into knowledge capital to leverage the UK's main area of excellence in the supply chain, which comes in the form of knowledge, financing and professional services offered to worldwide mining.

The BEIS expert committee then came to the stage and emphasised the ways in which the government can support mining with a strong regulatory environment and funding. Overseas diplomatic support was commented on with the general mood being positive.  The feeling was that UK companies have lots of support operating abroad but potentially diplomats needed to be more impartial and not speak to the needs of their representative countries.  One suggestion to emerge from the session was that of a critical materials diversification fund to encourage international partnerships through diplomatic relations to build out the UK’s supply security.

The base metals section mostly covered UK domestic extraction and there was a distaste towards the regulatory environment in the UK for operators. Permit procedures were cited as too generalised and laughs were shared over the fact that planning for mines could include questions on topics such as carpark size. Suggestions included policy to support companies in the capital raising period and improved permit response times. The BGS spoke of their desire to improve data access to encourage domestic capacities and encourage collaboration with operators which would allow a stronger government lobbying position.

Rare Earths were discussed next with an emphasis on the UK’s domestic capacities and the emerging competitive advantage provided by chemical parks linked to offshore wind.  These would allow for low carbon production and give the UK a competitive edge, allowing UK technology to leapfrog the highly polluting Chinese processing techniques. This midstream capacity would allow some control within the midstream supply chain.

The battery session brought some useful insight and closed the day. Key themes included responsible sourcing, strategic partnerships and the dynamism of the market, with mining companies moving into refining and vice versa to ensure the security of supply chains. Responsible sourcing vs meeting increasing demand was discussed and the mood of the room was that it’s unlikely that a green transition can be both fast and just. The juxtaposition of demand vs environment was weighed up and many thought it wasn’t possible to have both. Graphite was cited as "the next lithium" with a boom expected mid-century.

In general, the day was positive but with a hesitant tone for UK critical minerals. The UK government has committees in place and there are expert voices to be heard - but action is now required with all eyes on the Critical Minerals Strategy. 

  • 30 Nov 2022

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