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Strategically important metals

TitleStrategically important metals
Publication TypeReport
Year of Publication2011
AuthorsHouse of Commons
InstitutionHouse of Commons, Science and Technology Committee
CityLondon / UK
Report NumberHC 726
AbstractStrategically important metals comprise the rare earth elements, the platinum group elements and other main group elements of importance to the UK. Of particular importance are those specialist metals that are vital to advanced manufacturing, lowcarbon technologies and other growing industries. Supply risks to strategically important metals have been a focus of recent media attention. The perception of scarcity of certain minerals and metals may lead to increased speculation and volatility in price and supply. For this reason, there is a need for accurate and reliable information on the potential scarcity of strategic metals. We heard that most strategic metal reserves are unlikely to run out over the coming decades. In practice, improved technology, the use of alternative materials and the discovery of new reserves are likely to ensure that strategic metals are accessible but there may be price implications. There are, however, concerns about supplies to UK users. The fact that China currently supplies over 97% of the world’s rare earth elements has highlighted the risk of monopolies and oligopolies in strategic metals. China recently imposed export quotas. We are also concerned by reports of hedge funds buying up significant quantities of strategic metals. Furthermore, the increasing global demand for strategically important metals from emerging economies and new technologies will be a significant factor affecting their price, and therefore availability in the future. In order to meet the growing demand for strategically important metals, there may be a need to exploit lower grade minerals, much of which can be found in developing countries outside China. Although there will be a significant environmental and monetary cost, there is an opportunity for developing nations to benefit from mining revenues. Fair royalties on mining sales will equip governments with funds that could be used to help improve social and environmental conditions. Broader action on improving the social and environmental impact of mining needs to be taken internationally. There is a need for the Government to be “joined up” on resource issues. In particular, the Government needs to clarify which department leads in the provision of information on strategic metal resources and how this information is updated and shared across government and then disseminated to businesses. The provision of such information will help businesses prepare for any potential future resource risks. We also found that there is a lack of information available on the strategically important metals contained in finished and semi-finished imports, as well as the amounts and locations of strategic metals in the national waste stream. We recommend that the Government conduct a review of metal resources—finished and semi-finished goods and waste—in the UK. This will help to identify routes to the recovery of strategic metals, and will also empower the private sector to realise the economic potential of recovery and recycling.
House_of_Commons_2011_UK.pdf1.65 MB
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