Written evidence submitted by Construction
Society of Chemical Industry (SIM 12)|
1. Is there a global shortfall in the supply and
availability of strategically important metals essential to the
production of advanced technology in the UK?
 Yesand not just in metals. For example,
the last remaining UK fluorite mine (Glebe, Derbyshire) has been
closed by it new owners (INEOS) with the loss of 65 jobs. The
asset is to be sold to a Mexican firm (Mexichem) by the end of
2010 (who will import the mineral from overseas) and will impose
considerable costs in the acquisition of new processing equipment
by their UK customers. Note that fluorite is an essential flux
for metal refining and the principal pre-cursor to production
of hydrofluoric acid.
 In considering supply and availability, we must
distinguish between primary and secondary production and between
home and overseas sources. Our indigenous metals reserves, though
once extensive, are now considerably depleted, being worked extensively
from the dawn of the industrial revolution to the present. We
are dependent on the import of metals from overseas. Over the
last decade, our ability to refine metals in the UK has reduced
markedly; seeing the closure of our last copper smelter (James
Bridge) our last zinc Smelter (Britannia) our major aluminium
refiner (Anglesey) and the withdrawal from the secondary lead
business by Xstrata (formerly Britannia Refines Metals on the
Kent coast). These changes leave the country increasingly dependent
on overseas markets and technologies and severely limiting our
ability to recycle the metals which we discard.
 As to the impact on "the production of
advanced technology in the UK" we can only speculate
about the impact of the loss of skills, facilities and knowledge
to this country. In terms of technological development (at which
we still excel) the availability of strategic metals has not yet
had a major impact on our R&D capability. However, our demonstrable
inability to develop world-class research into profitable business
is undoubtedly restricted by the lack of opportunity to develop
R&D ideas with industrial sponsors, as strategically important
businesses have been allowed to decline.
2. How vulnerable is the UK to a potential decline
or restriction in the supply of strategically important metals?
What should the Government be doing to safeguard against this
and to ensure supplies are produced ethically?
 There are numerous examples of metals whose supply
limits industrial growth. Indium for display technology; lithium
for high energy density batteries; the rare earth elements terbium, lanthanum and
neodymium, are all at the forefront of technological development
and all are in short supply. There are two drivers to this. The
"less common" light metals, lithium and titanium are
abundant in the earth, but are difficult and energy-intensive
to refine. The UK is at the forefront of titanium refining R&D
(see the FFC processi) and lithium is produced and
recycled by Umicore in Belgium amongst others. On a recent visit
to Umicore I was unsurprised to hear that the greatest restriction
on the efficient recovery of lithium from batteries is that they
are rarely recycled! Having paid a considerable sum for a mobile
phone imparts a sense of value in its owner, which persists long
after it has ceased to be used. Most of the redundant phones in
the western world lie in a drawer! There is an obvious initiative
the government could take to increase the supply of this metal
- any incentive to recycle mobile phone and other batteries would
offer huge savings over refining lithium from minerals such as
spodumene. The UK does not have economic deposits of lithium,
the bulk is mined in Bolivia, with Australia, Chile, Afghanistan
and China holding considerable reserves.
 The issue of Rare earth Elements is much further
from our control. The automobile industry uses tens of thousands
of tons of rare earth elements each year, and advanced military
technology depends on these elements also. Much of our "green"
technology depend on them, including wind turbines, low-energy
light bulbs and hybrid car batteries. Of the 17 REE elements known,
China holds 97% of the reserves and has threatened to stop, or
severely restrict their export, preferring to export them as high-value
products. The problem is that at present, there is an insufficient
quantity of these elements in circulation to make their recycling
3. How desirable, easy and cost-effective is it
to recover and recycle metals from discarded products? How can
this be encouraged? Where recycling currently takes place, what
arrangements need to be in place to ensure it is done cost-effectively,
safely and ethically?
 It is relatively easy to recover elements from
products, but this comes with an energy penalty and often generates
wastes which often have no practical use. Developments in recycling
technologies have been supported in the UK through the Research
Councils, the Knowledge Transfer Networks and Technology Strategy
Board and their continued success should be safeguarded.
 To increase the recycling of metals generally,
a strategic review of the efficiency with which industries and
local authorities deal with their waste inventory in needed. This
should be followed by compulsory sorting of all metal wastes from
households and businesses by the consumer and collection by local
authorities. It is indefensible in a modern society to throw any
 We need a national review of metallic wastes
in the UK, quantifying the amounts and locations of each metal
in the national waste inventory and then to identify routes to
their recovery. Once we understand the nature of the problem,
we will be in a position to address it. At present a large, but
unknown quantity of metals are neither in use, nor in the recycling
circuit. It would be in the nation's interest to minimize this
quantity though recycling incentives.
 You ask how recycling can be encouraged and this
is effective by both carrot and stick. To impose fines on people
discarding metal waste is one option as would be the provision
of a VAT discount on new phones; available when trading in an
old one. The safety of recycling is another issue. For example,
the lead in a car battery has potentially great toxicological
impact. Thankfully, it takes a very long time before it is adequately
dissolved and this is often sufficient for its impact to be diluted
and dispersed. By and large, industrial safety is excellent in
the UK and increased recycling of metals would seem to pose no
new risks to those already accounted for.
 Lastly, the ethics of recycling are occasionally
very poor indeed. We have all seen waste ground where the insulation
has been burned from (often stolen) cables, prior to their sale
as scrap copper. This localized and relatively small-scale crime
is very difficult to prevent. Similarly, the export by sea of
huge quantities of metals has ethical implications in that their
initial "reprocessing" in India, China and the Philippines
is often crude and environmentally damaging. In both cases, we
have a legislative framework in place which, by and large, prevents
ethically unsound practice in the UK, but once out of our control
becomes very difficult to manage.
4. Are there substitutes for those metals that
are in decline in technological products manufactured in the UK?
How can these substitutes be more widely applied?
 Current technologies do not provide suitable
alternatives to the rare earth elements, which are of increasing
concern. As stated above the opportunities for their recycling
are very limited at present. We do have the facility for recycling
platinum group metals from exhaust catalysts through Johnson Matthey,
but the business is dependent on global car sales. At present,
it is not very attractive to them, but as the major PGM operators
in the UK, they should be encouraged. Globally, Anglo American
controls almost half of the world's reserves of platinum group
metals and is the dominant force in their primary extraction.
Much has been said about recovery of PGM dust from road gulley
waste and various proposals have been made to address this. Again,
this is an area ripe for development. Research into alternative
catalysts should be promoted vigorously, but no obvious replacements
to PGM elements seem attractive at present.
5. What opportunities are there to work internationally
on the challenge of recovering, recycling and substituting strategically
 The UK R&D community depends in part, on
the strength of our government officials in effective lobbying
in Europe. Through the European Technology Platforms, we have
an opportunity to work with partners in Europe in shaping the
political agenda for strategic materials R&D. We need to ensure
our representatives are well-versed in science and technology
and are in an informed position to conduct these negotiations
to this country's long-term advantage. There is no room for weakness
here, as the German, Dutch and Scandinavian representatives seem
especially able in this respect.
 Perhaps the greatest return for the taxpayer's
money would be to provide the TSB or KTNs with the resources necessary
to find prospective partners and opportunities in Europe and to
maximize the participation of the UK research community. This
would require a small group of people to monitor both the "Official
Journal" and "Framework Programme" literature and
to disseminate this information in the UK. Moreover, involvement
with the Directorates General and Technology Platforms will provide
a valuable conduit for information transfer in both directions.
The larger UK companies do this commercially and it would be an
easy step for the government to take, involving little cost for
potentially great rewards. In these times of both austerity and
information overload, this might go some way to increasing our
international collaboration, at least in Europe.
 In conclusion, Britain no longer meets its own
needs in terms of metal extraction and its ability to recycle
the metals it has used has declined considerably in recent years.
Exporting our metals for recycling elsewhere comes at a cost to
both the economy and environment. Moreover, it leaves us increasingly
vulnerable to the fluctuations of the international metals markets
and the political whim of monopoly supplier nations.
 Our greatest asset is in expertise across the
entire supply chain, from exploration, mining, beneficiation and
smelting, to novel technologies for recycling of secondary metals.
Britain produces some of the most sought after graduates in these
technologies and has generated a wealth of knowledge far greater
than might be expected for our relatively small population. Our
R&D assets in these critically important areas should be protected
at all costs to ensure the materials security of the nation.
i G Z Chen, D J Fray,
T W Farthing (2000). "Direct Electrochemical Reduction of
Titanium Dioxide to Titanium in Molten Calcium Chloride". Nature 407 (6802):
FGS FIMMM FMIN.SOC.
Independent Consultant in Geochemistry and Geomaterials
Visiting Professor, Coventry University
Principal Research Fellow, University College, London
Honorary Senior Research Fellow, Imperial College, London
Project Manager, Mineral Industry Research Organisation
Chairman, Construction Materials Group, Society of
Director: The Association of Consulting Scientists,
Company Associate: Land & Minerals Consulting,
Ltd. Bristol and Quarry Design Ltd. Bristol
Company Associate: Quintessa Ltd. Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire
Editorial Board member - Mineral Processing &
Extractive Metallurgy Maney Publishing, London, UK
Committee member: Cementitious Materials Group, Institute
of Materials, Minerals & Mining, London
Committee member: Materials Chemistry Group, Institute of Materials,
Minerals & Mining, London
Committee member: Geochemistry Group, Geological Society
Committee member: Applied Mineralogy Group, Mineralogical Society
Committee member: Standard "B/516" British Standards
Dr. Mark Tyrer
Construction Materials Group, Society of Chemical Industry
17 December 2010