On the 28th November 2022, the Critical Minerals Association and Geological Society Business Forum hosted their second annual conference on ‘Delivering the UK’s Critical Mineral Ambitions.’
We welcomed hundreds of experts across industry, academia, finance, and government to Burlington House for a series of presentations and panel discussions on how to deliver the UK’s critical minerals ambitions.
The event began with a breakfast at Parliament hosted by the Chair of the APPG for Critical Minerals, Cherilyn Mackrory MP. Our special guests, which included MPs, UK civil servants, a delegations from Australia including the Honourable Scott Steward MP, enjoyed a lovely morning at the Terrace Pavilion. The Rt Hon. Baroness Northover delivered an opening speech.
The day continued at the Geological Society at Burlington House. Founders of the Critical Minerals Association, Kirsty Benham and Jeff Townsend, and Dr Peter Dolan of the Geological Society Business Forum delivered the conference’s open remarks, and thus commenced a programme of informative presentations and insightful panel discussions.
Before commencing with the panel discussions, Julian Kettle from Wood Mackenzie delivered a ten-minute overview of the critical minerals industry. He demonstrated our astronomical lack of mineral supply, which he foresees will result in a recession in the coming years. The only way we can power through is if policy inspires change: governments must invest in critical minerals now to boost confidence in private investment.
Our first panel on Government Strategy featured Matt Hatfield, Critical Minerals Lead from the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, and Ros Lund and Joseph Mansour from the Department for International Trade. They elaborated on the critical minerals A.C.E. framework and the meaning of building ‘resilience’ in our supply chains. Matt Hatfield emphasised that the UK must be realistic in its goals, and therefore our vision should not be complete autarky but leveraging the expertise that the UK possesses in mining and chemical engineering, as well as investing in areas with a specific competitive advantage, to secure the UK’s place in global supply chains.
Our second panel brought together the BEIS Expert Committee behind the development of the UK’s critical minerals strategy. Our panel included Guy Winter from Fasken, CEO of Cornish Lithium Jeremy Wrathall, and Professor Frances Wall, Camborne School of Mines. The panel discussion illuminated the urgency of ‘re-setting’ the market by ‘sign-posting’ the UK’s willingness to set up an alternative, sustainable, resilient supply chain of critical minerals.
The first round of panels concluded with a brief overview from Paul Lusty, Director of the Critical Minerals Intelligence Centre (CMIC), where he outlined the CMIC’s design principles, its various projects, and how it is supporting the UK’s critical minerals strategy.
Thus commenced the conference’s second round of panels on Rare Earth Elements. Martin Pittuck from SRK Consulting, one of our generous sponsors, delivered a global geological overview of rare earth elements. Martin presented geological maps, charts, and diagrams and illuminating the location of rare earth deposits around the world.
Our third panel on UK Midstream Development invited Ian Higgins from Less Common Metals, Allan Walton from HyproMag, and Paul Atherley of Pensana. Our speakers illuminated the two areas of advantage that the UK has over China, which it must capitalise on: firstly, the world-class expertise and efficiency of its separating facilities and chemical parks; and secondly, the UK’s notorious ‘bad weather,’ and potential unlimited energy supply from offshore wind turbines. Last year alone offshore wind generated enough energy to cut electricity costs by a deficit of sixty days. One of the keys to the UK’s resilience will be its potential to harness the world’s greatest abundance of electric power.
Our fourth panel, chaired by Joseph Mansour, the Critical Minerals Lead at the Department for International Trade, discussed Overseas Diplomatic Support. Panellists consisted of Rob Macaire from Rio Tinto, Charles Douglas Hamilton from Optiva Resources, and George Frangeskides from GreenRoc Mining. Our panellists provided recommendations such as how to optimise alignment with the EU post-Brexit, and the importance of collaborating with governments in African nations moving forward. Signing bilateral trade treaties with African nations will not only strengthen the UK’s supply chains by diversifying supply, but also help low-income countries in Africa.
The last panel on Rare Earth Elements was on Research & Innovation in the critical minerals industry. For this panel we were re-united with Professor Frances Wall, and welcomed Sam Broom Fendley from E-Tech Resources and Lucy Smith from MPIUK, chaired by Will Drury from UKRI. Our speakers touched upon important topics, especially challenges facing research and innovation in critical minerals. One example is the devastating impact of the UK’s current cost of living crisis to the industry which requires millions of kilowatts of energy a year to operate. Another challenge is the UK’s lack of a talent pipeline and multi-skilled workers that are vital to supply chain coordination and collaboration (e.g. being able to find someone who is skilled in both metallurgy and production management). The UK can overcome these obstacles if there is more funding into apprenticeship schemes and if the industry unites behind research and innovation projects to boost credibility.
After lunch and networking, our attendees returned to the lecture theatre for the day’s third round of presentations and panels on Base Metals. Tom Stock from SRK Consulting launched the round with a global geological overview on base metals and the UK’s potential in copper, nickel, cobalt, tungsten and tin.
Following Tom’s presentation, we were joined by Ellie Inglis-Woolcock from Cornwall Council, Jane Joughin from SRK Consulting, Tim Baines from Mayer Brown, and Emma Beatty from Minehutte for a panel discussion on ESG, Law and Governance. Our panel was able to give us deeper insights into the reality of planning and permitting in the UK and how decision making can and should be streamlined. Ellie in particular informed us of how Cornwall lacks a critical minerals planning team—a shock when one considers that the region is very experienced in mining relative to the rest of the UK. Councils therefore rely on the British Geological Survey and companies to be transparent about their data. Tim also provided some useful recommendations to our industry attendees, detailing his forecast that ESG standards will become far more broadly-encompassing in the coming years, and companies should anticipate and prepare for this, especially in light of reforms such as the EU’s new mandatory sustainability laws.
The seventh panel of the day was on Geological Data and Geophysics Surveys, and we were fortunate to be joined by a panel of geologists and exploration experts with decades of experience: Drew Craig from Aberdeen Minerals, Richard Williams from Cornish Metals, David Cather from Tungsten West, and Patrick Anderson from Dalradian, chaired by Paul Lusty from the CMIC. The panel emphasized the sheer amount of time, effort, and money that goes into making extensive datasets, but also delighted in what an exciting time it is right now to be in geology and exploration at the advent of new geophysical techniques, artificial intelligence and machine-learning. However, even if the UK did possess accurate geological data, the planning and permitting state of this country prevents mining projects from commencing promptly, as David Cather demonstrated with the case of the Hemerdon Mine operated by Tungsten West.
To conclude the third round, our eighth panel of the day delivered a highly-anticipated discussion: Funding Mining Projects. The panel featured Amanda van Dyke from ARCH Emerging Markets Partners, Richard Lloyd from Minexia, John Gale from BMO, and Alice England from Ecora Resources, with Jonathan Henry of Giyani Metals chairing. Each panellist was able to share their personal experiences and lessons learned from being in the industry. Amanda van Dyke provided some incredible insights into why private finance is failing to capture the importance of critical minerals and invest in mining projects: the ‘output’ problem. Private finance invests based on past results and yields, and since mining has a terrible legacy, too few private investors are willing to give the industry a second chance, though we are beginning to see progress in the Canadian and Australian markets due to a policy push.
Our attendees then retired for a break with teas and coffees in the library of the Geological Society, followed by the event’s final round of panels and presentations.
Angela O’Rourke from Geoscience Australia, part of the esteemed Australia Delegation that travelled to join us in London for the conference, delivered a succinct and insightful geological overview on the extraction and production of critical minerals such as lithium, cobalt, nickel, graphite, and manganese. She also stressed the importance of precompetitive geoscience in the success of mineral discovery and business returns, and how Australia supports its industry by providing this.
The penultimate panel of the day was on Supplying Gigafactories, and its speakers consisted of Nick Wells from Jaguar Land Rover, Milan Thakore from Green Lithium, George Donne from Giyani Metals, Ellen Lenny-Pessagno from Albermarle, and Darryn Quayle from Worley. Nick provided insights into the downstream perspective, admitting the difficulty of delivering products comprising both ‘luxury and sustainability’ in the current economic climate as demanded by their customers. Ellen from Albemarle added to his point by highlighting the almost-unattainable standards of the public: even when companies do engage in progressive community outreach and ESG initiatives, such as Albemarle who donates 3% of their profits to indigenous communities, they still face backlash.
The final panel discussion of the day focused on Battery Traceability and Life Cycle Assessments. Our panel boasted experts in battery materials and the battery market: Douglas Johnson-Poensgen from Circulor, Masuma Farooki from Minehutte, and Robert Pell from Minviro, chaired by Zama Dadan from ARCH Emerging Markets Partners. Our experts agreed on a range of issues such as the UK’s need for battery passports and Robert’s point that third party verification is at the heart of transparency. Attendees also enjoyed a lively debate about the growing role of AI. Masuma also brought up two considerations: firstly, that we have to question whether our traceability standards are composed from a biased Western agenda; and secondly, because ESG performance is difficult to quantify, this should be approached not as numbers in audits but as an ever-evolving conversation.
The event concluded with a drinks reception at Burlington House that welcomed an even wider audience of industry, government, academia, and support services.
We would like to thank our event sponsors, without whom the conference would not have been possible – SRK Consulting, Tungsten West, Sovereign Metals, Minviro, Minexia, and Dalradian.
Article by Eileen Maes, Communications & Public Affairs Associate, Critical Minerals Association