Written evidence submitted by The Cobalt
Development Institute (SIM 16)|
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?
With regard to cobalt only, the industry does not
see this as an issue. The global production of cobalt has consistently
increased for the past 20-years and more recently several new
projects have come on stream or are about to come on stream, for
example FreeportMcMorans's Tenke Fungurume project in DRC and
Sherritt International's Ambatovy project in Madagascar. The cobalt
market is well supplied with refined and raw material for the
foreseeable future. In fact a recent report from CRU Strategies
suggests that we are likely entering a phase of oversupply of
cobalt for the next five years. The USGS estimates that global
cobalt reserves are over seven million tonnes and in the longer
term there is also the possibility of mining deep sea mineralised
nodules where the resource has been calculated to be around one
billion tonnes. Nautilus Mining are just embarking upon the first
project of this type and so this source of cobalt (and many other
minerals) could become reality on the longer term.
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?
The UK is an important user of cobalt and it affects
a broad range of industries from superalloys (aerospace and land
based gas turbines; hard wearing castings in renewable energy
applications), catalysts (clean fuel technology and removal of
harmful gases such as NOx), digital storage (essential in computer
processing), industrial cutting tools (high speed steels and hard
metals), driers in paints and pigments, rechargeable batteries
(mainly Li-ion systems), high strength permanent magnets and many
other applications. Cobalt is very much a technology enabling
metal and important in achieving the stated ambitions of the Government's
"green" agenda. To safeguard the UK's important global
position in cobalt the UK could consider creating a "Minister
for Metals" and should facilitate and encourage good political
relations with important supplier countries as this would facilitate
access to raw materials in third countries and should allow ethical
issues to be more robustly addressed. Also it is considered appropriate
to ensure that regulatory matters, such as REACH, are applied
in a proportional and sustainable way. Such measures would ensure
the best chance for the UK to enjoy uninterrupted supply with
a sustainable and valuable future.
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?
Much is already being done in this respect and liaison
with bodies such as EUROMETAUX would most helpful in obtaining
an industry perspective as recycling is an important aspect of
sustainability. Resource efficiency is key for a sustainable future
and the CDI believes it is important to facilitate the production
and import of cobalt as well encouraging recycling. Knowledge
of the sector and effective supply chain management are key here.
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?
It is notoriously difficult to substitute cobalt
without suffering serious reductions in efficiency and or performance.
In the catalyst sector this is particularly apparent as well as
for high performance alloys and in other technology enabling processes.
If substitution provided enhanced characteristics or better economy
then industry would automatically do this. With cobalt it is not
appropriate just to talk about substitution as a means to an end
as this could cause serious economic damage to the sector and
at the same time cause a reduction is efficiency and effectiveness
in certain important processes and applications.
5. What opportunities are there to work internationally
on the challenge of recovering, recycling and substituting strategically
The UK should work to promote good governance, capacity-building
and transparency in relation to the extractive industries in developing
countries and promoting sustainable exploration and extraction
within and outside the UK and EU. The CDI believes
that closer co-operation with the African region in general -
and the DRC in particular - is needed to ensure that access to
essential raw materials by UK companies is facilitated and safeguarded.
The EU currently has a Raw Materials Initiative underway which
is examining this question. The issues relating to raw materials
is complicated and the CDI does not believe that substitution
should be an automatic response to perceived criticality of raw
materials, rather it is recommended to look at methods which improve
and safeguard raw material supply for UK industry.
The Cobalt Development Institute
17 December 2010