Rare earths have seen a surge in demand all around the world. After all, these minerals are key components of everything from solar panels to electric car batteries to defense equipment. And with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine disrupting much of the supply chain, the need for rare earths has become even more dire.
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A Rare Earths “Plan of Action”
For the first time ever, the United Kingdom (UK) Government has released a “Critical Minerals Strategy.” The policy spells out the country’s game plan for developing a more consistent, UK-based supply of rare earths. The multi-pronged strategy includes ramping up domestic production of minerals like lithium, graphite, and silicon. The UK will also conduct research and development in this field while attempting to boost reuse and recycling across the country.
The Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) recently posted the entire plan on its website. Some of the fine points include effort to:
- Accelerate the growth of the UK’s domestic capabilities.
- Collaborate with international partners.
- Enhance international markets to make them more responsive, transparent and responsible
Currently, the UK has pockets of mineral wealth stretching from the Scottish Highlands to Cornwall. The country also has at least some expertise in material manufacturing and refining. In recent interviews, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng stressed that the UK would maximize what it produces along the critical minerals value chain in a way that creates jobs and growth. However, they wish to protect communities and the natural environment at the same time.
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A New Facility to Match the New Policy
Britain today finds itself in a vulnerable position, especially given the presence of so many rising geopolitical threats. After all, the vast majority of critical minerals come from just a few countries, the main one being China. That’s why the new plan involves developing supply chains that reinforce the UK’s national security interests.
To that point, the country recently began work on a rare earth processing hub at the Saltend Chemicals Park in Hull, East Yorkshire. Among other things, the multi-million dollar facility will refine rare earth oxides required for magnet production. Magnets, of course, are a key component in the manufacture of EVs.
To underpin the long-term nature of this strategy, the UK will also evaluate the criticality of its minerals every year. This will be spearheaded by the new Critical Minerals Intelligence Centre (CMIC), which will, in turn, be led by the British Geological Survey (BGS).
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