Written evidence submitted by the Mineralogical
Society of Great Britain and Ireland (SIM 09)|
1. The Mineralogical
Society of Great Britain and Ireland (Mineralogical Society hereafter)
is a learned society that aims to advance the knowledge of the
science of mineralogy, and its application to a range of subjects,
including among others the exploitation, processing and recycling
of economic minerals.
2. The Mineralogical
Society has approximately 1,000 members, the majority of whom
are students, researchers and academics from universities and
other scientific institutions, in the UK, Ireland and abroad.
Many of these scientists work in fields with direct application
to the question of strategically important metals. These include
the nature and properties of minerals; the processes by which
they are formed and concentrated; extraction methods; metallurgy;
and mineral processing. The Mineralogical Society has a number
of Special Interest Groups, including an Applied Mineralogy Group.
important or "critical" metals have been the subject
of a recent report by the European Union (EU), which identified
a list of critical raw materials for the EU (http://ec.europa.eu/enterprise/policies/raw-materials/critical/index_en.htm)
. This submission assumes that the list of critical metals for
the UK corresponds strongly to the EU list. The UK does not currently
produce any of the metals on that list from primary indigenous
sources, although potentially economic deposits of some metals
do exist in this country; an example is the Hemerdon tungsten
deposit in Devon. The lack of indigenous production means that
the UK is vulnerable to security of supply issues.
carried out by scientists within the UK has the potential to address
many aspects of critical metal supply, including:
- Understanding the processes by which ore deposits
are formed, and identifying hitherto unrecognised deposits. Many
of the critical metals on the EU list have only become economically
important in recent times, and thus their deposits have been the
subject of limited research.
- Understanding of mineral properties, which is
fundamental to recovery of critical metals from waste streams
and through recycling.
- Development of substitutes for critical metals.
Q1: Is there a global shortfall in the supply
and availability of strategically important metals?
the known global reserves of critical metals may be limited at
this point in time, it is anticipated that as market forces drive
research and exploration, new reserves will be discovered and
developments in extraction and processing will allow these to
be exploited. Global geological resources of these metals are
thought to be considerable, although estimation of the total extractable
resource is difficult. In the short term, geographical and political
factors are of more concern: many critical metals are only available
from a small number of sources, some of which are in the world's
more unstable countries. The EU is almost entirely dependent on
imports of most of the critical metals. There is thus a possibility
that supply and availability of any of these metals could be limited
at times in the next few years.
Q2: How vulnerable is the UK to a potential decline
or restriction in supply?
6. The UK
currently has no production of any of the critical metals from
a primary source. UK supplies of these critical metals are dominantly
from non-EU sources, and many critical metals are supplied from
only one or two countries; for instance, almost all the world's
tantalum is produced in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Political
disruption in such countries could significantly affect supply
of these metals to the UK.
7. The UK
is considered to have significant reserves of some of the critical
metals, particularly in the historical mining area of SW England,
although areas such as the Highlands of Scotland and parts of
Wales also potentially contain exploitable deposits. Issues of
cost, environmental considerations, and planning have restricted
mining in these areas in recent years. Clearly, exploration and
mining of critical metals within the UK would provide the country
with some security of supply, as well as bringing economic benefits
to rural areas.
the current lack of metalliferous mining within the UK, the UK
is still a global centre for mining finance and home to two of
the world's largest mining companies (Rio Tinto and Anglo American).
There are many other mining and exploration companies and mining
consultancies, of a range of sizes, based in the UK. They are
working worldwide on a range of resources including critical metals,
are contributing to the UK economy, and are in a position to aid
the supply of critical metals for UK industry.
9. The UK
has a reasonably strong research base in ore deposit geology,
but relatively little research funding is currently directed into
this area. Furthermore, only one university offers a degree course
in mining engineering or graduate course in mining geology (Camborne
School of Mines, University of Exeter), and the level of ore deposit
geology taught as part of mainstream undergraduate geology courses
is variable. To ensure that the UK retains the skills and knowledge
needed to identify and exploit resources of strategic raw materials,
it is essential that research and education in these areas is
10. Promoting more rapid routes from exploration
to exploitation of deposits is vital in ensuring security of supply.
Efficient use of resources requires comprehensive understanding
at the exploration stage of how a deposit will perform when processed
through mining, concentration and extraction of the elements of
interest. This "geometallurgy" needs interdisciplinary
research between geologists, mineralogists, specialists in geostatistics,
minerals and mining engineers.
11. On the
subject of ethical production, it is important that mining of
critical metals in developing countries is responsibly managed
and associated with positive financial, social and environmental
impacts. We note that it is possible to use a scientific approach
to "fingerprint" materials and identify their source
ore deposit. As an example, the German geological survey has used
a variety of analytical techniques to "fingerprint"
tantalum ores from Africa. Many organisations are working on methods
to ensure responsible sourcing, and more research is needed to
identify the best ways in which this can be ensured.
Q3: How desirable, easy and cost-effective is
it to recover and recycle metals?
is one important strand of critical metal supply. However, many
of the critical metals have only recently become important in
components for new technologies, and thus the resource available
to be recycled is limited. Further research into recycling processes
is needed to increase efficiency.
Q4: Are there substitutes for those metals that
are in decline?
have not yet been identified for many of the critical metals that
are used in new technology applications. Further research in this
subject is urgently needed.
Q5: What opportunities are there to work internationally
on the challenge of recovering, recycling and substituting strategically
14. Many scientists
working in these fields already collaborate widely with other
academics and colleagues in industry from around the world. The
UK scientific community will continue to address these questions,
but the availability of research funding is a key constraint.
The Mineralogical Society of Great Britain and Ireland
17 December 2010