Findings from the Innovate UK Global Expert Mission on Critical Materials
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In May 2022, as part of Innovate UK’s Global Expert Missions Programme commissioned by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) with funding from the Global Research and Innovation Programme (GRIP), a team of UK experts led by Innovate UK KTN visited Canada and the US to improve our understanding of the research and innovation landscape in the field of critical materials.
Critical materials and minerals are fundamental to many of today’s electronic components; from mobile phones which typically use indium-tin oxide (ITO) films for touch screen to batteries comprised of lithium, cobalt and graphite. The global energy transition towards a low-carbon future is accelerating the development of technologies and products which increasingly require critical materials such as solar panels, wind turbines and batteries for electric vehicles. This will consequently lead to supply chain disruption and vulnerabilities. A recent study by the Faraday Institution estimates the UK will need to source an additional 70,000 tonnes of lithium by 2035, an increase of 84% from the predicted 2025 levels to keep pace with the UK’s Net-Zero ambitions. Similarly, the increased adoption of electric vehicles will require intensive mining of exotic rare earth elements such as neodymium and dysprosium which are key components of permanent magnets used in induction motors.
The need for international cooperation
From mining critical minerals to material development, application and waste management is a hugely complex process. To manage and track the global flow of minerals and materials requires international cooperation. While there are a number of mining initiatives in the UK, we are, however, still entirely reliant on imports, and with China dominating the refining and processing market for critical materials, there is an urgent need for the UK to seek international collaboration to support UK based businesses. It is therefore essential for the UK to engage with strategic partners to ensure global competitiveness. The recently announced Minerals Security Partnership (MSP) aims to accomplish this by strengthening critical mineral supply chains with partners including the UK, US, Canada and the European Commission.
The Global Expert Mission
Innovate UK KTN’s Global Expert Mission (GEM) is pivotal in building strategic partnerships with countries and overseas organisation with the aim of supporting UK businesses. The GEM programme delivers this by providing a deep dive into the research and innovation ecosystem of the country to help identify opportunities for collaboration. A team of UK delegates representing industry, government and academia visited Canada and the US in May 2022. The visit focussed on understanding the country’s research and innovation landscape and to identify synergies for future collaboration in four thematic areas i) Extraction industry and processing ii) Manufacturing and supply chain iii) Recycling and circular economy and iv) Innovation and policy.
During the visit, the team engaged with businesses and government organisations working across the whole critical material supply chain. Some of these include the Canadian National Research Council (NRC), National Resources Canada (NRCan), Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED), Saskatchewan Research Council (SRC) and from the US, Argonne National Laboratory, Ames National Laboratory, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), National Science Foundation (NSF) and Secure America’s Future Energy (SAFE).
Our engagement with both Canadian and US stakeholders were positive and we identified a number of priority areas for potential collaborations. It was clear that Canada, with its vast mineral wealth, could be a key strategic partner for critical raw material supply. The Canadian Government recently announced an investment of CAD$2 billion for the production and processing of critical minerals. There are a number of initiatives in Canada to support critical mineral research and development such as the NRC’s Clean Energy and Materials Acceleration Programme (MAP). The US demonstrated strong research and innovation capabilities similar to the UK in downstream processing such as new material discovery and development. Visits to Argonne National Lab and the Critical Material Institute in Ames highlighted the exceptional work being conducted in the US, particularly on supply chain mapping, emissions tracking and development of substitute materials. Our findings suggest the US and Canada to be key partners for joint research in critical materials.
For a detailed report of the mission, please click here to download the full report.
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