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Critical Minerals Association - Overview of 2020

Updated: Jan 6, 2021

Welcome to 2021! Our final webinar of the year provided an overview of 2020 & insights into 2021. Watch the recording & read highlights below with:

  • Jeff Townsend (CMA Founder)

  • Kirsty Benham (CMA Founder)

  • Mike Armitage (CMA Honorary Chair; Corporate Consultant, SRK Consulting)

  • Brett Grist (CMA Co-Chair of UK Mining Working Group; Exploration Manager of Cornwall Resources)

  • Ben Lepley (CMA Co-chair of Public Perception of Mining Group; Senior Consultant, SRK Consulting)

  • Mark Smith (Mining Sector Manager, UK Government Department of International Trade)


"From a governmental perspective, one of the issues is the fragmented nature of the sector due to the inherent large life cycles of the industry. It is hard to have one coherent and authoritative voice from industry to government to help align thinking and help get messages across. The foundation of the CMA has been instrumental to fill this void."

- Mark Smith, UK Government DIT Mining Sector Manager


Event Summary - Key Points

Kirsty Benham (CMA Founder)

During the Critical Minerals Association's first year, there has been a significant growth of the organisation thanks to the support and contribution from our founding members and the welcoming of new companies which share our vision.

This year we have established 4 working groups which each focus on different issues surrounding critical minerals and the supply chain, from ESG compliance and circular economy to the surrounding current mineral rights legislation in the UK and perception of mining. An important future step is focusing on a circular economy and the development of recycling for the sourcing of materials. Each would benefit from governmental support and involvement.

Jeff Townsend (CMA Founder)

Covid-19 has allowed us to put a spotlight on the extractive industry and highlight areas of improvement. For example, a highlight this year was the creation of the Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management, an issue which transcends extraction, affecting financing and parliamentary issues. The scale of this has truly highlighted the importance of the mining industry and how critical it is moving forward.

An intermediate issue could result from nations rushing to develop their role in the critical minerals industry, (i.e. the USA working to catch up to China’s stronghold on the sector). This is an intermediate issue as it is becoming a race against friends and may lead to political implications.

A possible future threat may be political risk resulting from international debt; a repercussion of Covid-19. Where this debt is focussed and who controls it might result in some reaction from the government in terms of providing greater diplomatic support for UK companies abroad.

Mike Armitage (CMA Honorary Chair, SRK Consulting)

Despite the challenges that 2020 has presented, a highlight has been the way the mining industry has survived and particularly its durability and resilience despite shutdowns in operations through Covid-19 measures. In most cases the adoption of a “where there is a will there is a way” attitude has allowed companies to stay operational and survive the pandemic.

Another theme of the year has been the increasing profile of ESG and notably the increasing number of companies that are adopting processing and extractive methods based on their lower environmental impact rather than purely their technical and economic performance.

A threat of getting young people into mining this year has been highlighted by the pausing of the mining engineering course at Camborne School of Mines right at the time when we require more people to be studying and getting involved in mining.

We need to promote the positive aspects of mining to try and change public perceptions of the industry. There has been an increase this past year in the number of companies, professional organisations and individuals conducting seminars and presentations on this topic but I think this effort now needs to be harnessed if we want to get more of the right young people into the industry. My concern is that without this we may miss out on a generation of mining specialists.

Looking forward, a longer term impact of Covid-19 may be an increased push for countries to be self-sufficient in terms of producing materials and employing local people and to facilitate this process, from a UK perspective, this will hopefully lead to a review and a streamlining of exploration legislation.

Mark Smith (Mining Sector Manager, UK Government DIT)

The challenge of the global pandemic has been met with resilience from the sector in handling and responding quickly to this unforeseen short-term impact. The future holds opportunities to work in collaboration with other countries to share expertise and talent of the UK. Where projects align to a number of UK Government policy drivers there’s a greater opportunity for direct Government support and funding.

There is a requirement for the perception of mining to change from its current negative image. This will require change, and a combined effort from miners to investors to the general public. To achieve this, the mining industry will need to move from a commodity industry to a consumer focussed industry. As the consumers of downstream industries demand higher ESG standards and ethical procurement of raw materials they in turn drive the behaviours of the upstream industries.

Ben Lepley (CMA Co-Chair Perception of Mining, SRK Consulting)

This past year has been a positive one for changing how the public view mining and the extractive industry, with initiatives like the Global Tailings Standard and events such as the Future Geo Summit.

The London Metals Exchange and its ‘responsible sourcing’ initiative introduced in 2020 could be a real game changer within the industry, allowing a standard to be developed for the trading of responsibly mined resources.

As only major negative news (e.g. Rio Tinto’s social and environmental blunder with the Juukan caves) is widely published, it affects the image of the whole industry as positive advances with public perception to mining are undone by the few negative incidents.

The reimagining and rebranding of mining education will be a huge change going forward, moving on from the old school way of teaching geology and instead being more diverse and inclusive and incorporating new disciplines to round out the subject.

Special mention to Lucy Crane, Jeremy Wrathall and the Cornish Lithium team for all their hard work in getting high profile coverage for mineral extraction, bringing new ideas, challenging and improving the sector. (BBC Future Planet - 'The new 'gold rush' for green lithium')

Brett Grist (CMA Co-Chair, UK Domestic Mining, Cornwall Resources)

The industry’s ability to adapt to the challenges which 2020 has presented bodes very well for future challenges for the sector such as climate change. An exciting highlight of 2020 is the UK’s bold plan for a green revolution and the opportunity it presents to the sector in UK for supplying the raw materials required to fulfil this in the most environmentally conscious

way possible.

There is a current view that most raw materials need to be sourced from overseas, where processing routes and their environmental footprint can be of a variable standard. In the UK we have exceptionally high grade deposits (higher metal/rock ratio), which will produce far less waste rock and CO2 per tonne of metal produced. It is up to us to turn this into a reality.

What happens globally in the mining industry can also affect domestic mining projects in terms of public attitudes and perceptions. This can have a knock-on effect on projects gaining permits, despite the ability to apply high sustainability and sourcing standards in the UK. Where projects are clearly aligned with lower impacts, funding has been generated relatively rapidly (e.g. Cornish Lithium). This reflects the public's enthusiasm for clean resource extraction and in turn presents opportunities for the wider mining industry. If we can align ourselves towards what the public wants, it makes mining projects easier to sell. Companies to note for their performance this year include Cornish Lithium for its vital role in the transport and battery storage industries required for the upcoming green revolution. Other commodities of note include the work by Cornish Metals and their positive tin and copper grades (achieving grades of up to 10% Sn).

If we are serious about advancing a UK based extractive sector, the sector needs help from the UK government to streamline the current process and highlight the potential of the industry domestically.

Article written by Beth Donaghey, MSc Exploration Geology, Camborne School of Mines

Huge thanks to all our members for their support this year: Roskill, Minviro, SRK Consulting, Cornwall Resources, Cornish Lithium, Fasken, Diamondfields, Technical Critical Minerals, E-Tech Metals, Mkango Resources, Techmet, Satarla, Dalradian, Pensana Resources

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