The warning came after a “critical minerals” event took place in parliament calling on MPs and ministers to consider alternative supplies of metals such as tungsten, copper, tin and lithium to China and unstable regimes in Africa. Pressure is mounting on the UK government to allow minerals to be mined in the UK so that it can meet some of its own needs. After a dispute over the decision to review the opening of a coal mine in West Cumbria, there are concerns that similar opposition will exist in the exploration of elements such as lithium and tungsten.
Rother Valley Conservative MP Alexander Stafford, who hosted the event in Parliament, said, “Critical minerals are vital to our low carbon industrial capabilities and recovery from Covid. In fact, these minerals are becoming more important day by day. Without them we can our society just doesn’t work.
“The consequences of the instability in the supply chain for critical minerals would be dire for both the economy and our overall net-zero ambitions.
“The government must now take rapid action to diversify these supply chains and reduce our reliance on unstable suppliers.”
The UK has world leaders at Exeter University’s Camborne School of Mining in Cornwall who are developing environmentally friendly methods of extracting resources from the ground.
Professor Frances Wall of the Camborne School of Mines stressed that progress is important both for geopolitical reasons and to meet consumer needs.
She said: This is really an overall resilience issue. People fear how the Middle East forced everyone to ransom in the oil crisis. So if we move into an age of renewable energy, electric vehicles and other things, it will be different. “
She noted that while fossil fuel suppliers were in the northern hemisphere, the new elements are mainly found in the southern hemisphere, which shifts the focus of international politics.
She said, “The country that came out on top in terms of raw materials and the first diagram of the supply chain is China.
“China has thought of this value chain and they are leading. Even without mining it, they import the South American material and refine it together with cobalt from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
“So the race is on because we in the rest of the world have been very happy to buy things from people like China until everyone wants some of the action in making electric cars.”
Focusing on Boris Johnson’s ambitions to make the UK a green technology center, she noted that electric cars can only be made if the country also has the ability to produce the batteries nearby.
“If countries like the UK want to keep auto jobs, we have to make the cars, so we have to make the batteries, and without the raw materials you can’t make the batteries.”
She said Britain must act quickly unless we want “another country to hold you as a ransom”.
She added, “The auto industry could disappear and tens of thousands of jobs could disappear.”
Production of certain minerals, such as lithium, is projected to increase nearly 500 percent by 2050 to meet demand.
Two companies, Cornish Lithium and British Lithium, are currently exploring opportunities to mine it in the UK, while the Hemerdon mine in Cornwall has the fourth largest tungsten deposit in the world.
The need for minerals is also highlighted in the technology currently used with a smartphone that contains between 50 and 75 different elements.
A single 3 megawatt wind turbine requires 4.3 tons of copper, 2 tons of neodymium, 300 tons of steel, 1100 tons of concrete and 2.7 tons of aluminum, in addition to other materials such as zinc, molybdenum and cobalt.
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