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Q&A Session 11 – Source Certain

Welcome to our Q&A session with Cameron Scadding, Managing Director at Source Certain International (SCI). SCI is an Australian scientific technology company with leading capabilities in provenance, analytical and forensic sciences.

The Q&A will cover:

● Source Certain origins

● Behind the scientific technology

● Role of verifying provenance in ESG

1) CMA: Can you tell us about Source Certain and your involvement in critical minerals?

Source Certain is a Western Australian science technology company that offers a range of innovative science-based solutions to international clients. Our portfolio includes supply chain integrity services, which are underpinned by scientific provenance technology, research and education programs, geo-exploration services, forensic services to law enforcement and foundational analytical services for a wide range of products within industries like agriculture, food, and mining.

We first started implementing provenance programs in the minerals space, including critical minerals 15 years ago. Most of these programs were implemented to investigate or solve a specific issue that companies identified in their process or supply chain.

At that time, notions of ‘transparency’ and ‘origin’ were not priorities for industry – the notion of proactive implementation of a scientific technology like ours to build robust and resilient supply chains was rarely considered. There is no doubt that times have changed.

The sector is now looking at the need for transparency and managing an ever-evolving set of social licence and freedom to operate parameters. The challenge we now have, one that other sectors, like agriculture, have faced and continue to face is to make sure that action is taking place. Greenwashing will be very destructive to the sector if it missteps here.

With COVID19 in mind, and its disruptive force on supply chains, our business has been introduced to several challenges that minerals’ companies are now facing, which we look forward to helping them solve. We have developed a strategy to get the sector started on building trusted and resilient supply chains.

In 2021 we partnered with USA Rare Earths to establish a ‘Transparent and Trusted Supply Chain for US Critical Minerals’. This will support their own Neo Magnet and Round Top mining operations as well as all external input material coming through their plant with the objective to underpin their mine-to-magnet strategy.

We are also working with Cornish Lithium and applying our scientific provenance verification technology to establish a reference database of all Cornwall-sourced lithium. The database would then be cross-referenced against lithium in the battery supply chain to verify its UK origin. We are hopeful this initial work will form a foundation for developing a transparent and accountable lithium supply chain for batteries in the UK.

Spodumene sample

In Australia we are playing a key role in two Australian critical mineral projects with the Future Battery Minerals CRC and digital transparency company, Everledger. We are helping to create a world-leading provenance, traceability, and integrity system for the Australian Battery Mineral Value Chain through complementary technologies that can digitally enable and scientifically prove the provenance and integrity claims of Australian Critical Minerals.

Through these activities and others, we believe this could be the blueprint for a global standard. This will allow us to build a resilient trusted supply chain ecosystem for critical and strategic minerals across all aligned countries.

2) CMA: How does chemical fingerprinting and tracking of raw materials work?

Source Certain’s Chief Scientist, Dr John Watling, pioneered scientific provenance verification in the late 1970s in Australia. Since then, the technology, known as TSW Trace®, has been used extensively as a verification and investigative tool in the forensic space and within the supply chains of numerous global industries, including mining.

Dr John Watling holding a gold ore sample

Whether an item is natural or man-made, its composition is made up of chemical, molecular, elemental, and isotopic markers. Collectively they can indicate the precise geographic origin of the product, its provenance, and how it may have been produced. Source Certain conducts scientific analysis of a physical product sample to identify these markers. What sets us aside is that our verification component relies on empirical scientific evidence – we call it ‘real provenance.'

For over half a century global manufacturing industries have been attempting to give consumers confidence that the products they are buying are ethically and sustainably produced through public statements about their ESG commitments. However, the failure to identify and be able to verify the true origin of critical input products renders many of these statements as claims rather than commitments and can be described as virtue signalling or even greenwashing.

This, alongside the requirement for new and reliable sources of sustainably and ethically sourced critical minerals has signalled the need for an evidence-based process to validate the origin of input materials, and the claims that come with them.

Source Certain takes a physical sample of a resource from a known mine, tests it using scientific methodologies (TSW Trace) to determine its unique chemical ‘fingerprint’ and stores that fingerprint in a Provenance Database. We then take samples from within the chain that claim to come from this origin and again, test them using TSW Trace and compare them against the reference sample to verify their origin and integrity of claims.

This is different from tracing or tracking where there is a continuous flow of data recording who and where something was handled. Our technology underpins tracing solutions, like Blockchain, by verifying that the product, for which we have recorded important information, is what it claims to be. If it isn’t, if someone has substituted it, for example, then it undermines the information captured.

3) CMA: What are some of the challenges faced by Original Equipment Manufactureres (OEMs) in understanding where materials come from?

Lots of these chains are complicated and generally can be described as opaque therefore there is little visibility in them. With this comes a whole heap of risks and not just in terms of ethical and sustainable sourcing. When you don’t know where the input materials that are critical to your business come from, there is a very material risk around the security of supply. It is difficult to manage what you don’t know and for a long time companies have had limited means of finding out where these materials came from. However, technology has now caught up and not knowing is not an option anymore. Building trust and confidence in the information that relates to provenance is vital for OEMs today. The need to verify, prove and validate key claims is fast becoming a requirement, not a ‘nice to have’.

The challenge that we see bigger OEMs facing is the question of ‘how do they get started?’ We tell all of our clients and prospective clients that transforming their supply chains can be done incrementally and acting when you find issues will build more trust with stakeholders and resilience within the chain than the grand signalling that oftentimes struggles to be followed through with.

4) CMA: How do you think the role of provenance verification will shape the future of ESG?

Provenance matters because it will be the test that determines if ESG claims can be believed. One half of the ESG equation is making and actioning ESG commitments but the other half is verifying them with robust methods, and that’s where we come in.

The good news for the minerals sector is that other sectors, like seafood, agriculture and horticulture, have already started implementing traceability solutions, including scientific provenance verification.

As new and sophisticated verification technologies become readily available, companies will have to take steps to implement them into their systems and have robust methods for validating ESG claims. Technologies like ours are ready now and available to be deployed. We have worked hard to make that known and signal that to the industry. We’re lucky to be working with a few industry players that are willing to make a change themselves, as first-movers. When these actions begin to indicate a new industry standard, and stakeholder expectations slowly reset, we know that others will follow.

4) CMA: Why did you decide to join the Critical Minerals Association (CMA)?

There is power in numbers here, and we are glad to be in the company of like-minded people, groups, and companies as part of the CMA. We have a louder voice together and embrace the cooperative and innovative environment that the Association provides. The opportunity to support the work being done by the CMA, key industry and government leaders is also important to us and we see this partnership as a key vehicle to drive further collaboration and movement towards a more standardised approach to ensure transparency and resilience within the critical and strategic minerals supply chain.

Find out more about Source Certain here:

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