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Q&A Session 8 – Less Common Metals

Welcome to our Q&A Session with Ian Higgins, Managing Director, Less Common Metals (LCM). Less Common Metals is a world leader in the manufacture and supply of complex alloy systems and metals, and are specialists in those based on rare earth elements.

The Q&A will cover:

  • Less Common Metals’ origins

  • The role of Neodymium, Iron, Boron (NdFeB) in the Green Energy Transition

  • The UK’s need for a Midstream Industry

  • Less Common Metals' Community Engagement

1) CMA: How did you end up working in the critical mineral sector?

Ian: I've always had a strong interest in how chemistry and material science enable everyday objects to function. After I completed my PhD in high-temperature materials, I joined the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority as a scientist, and then four years later I joined Johnson Matthey as Technical Manager before moving to Johnson Matthey Rare Earth Products, where I was introduced to the wonderful world of rare earth elements.

2) CMA: What does LCM do? How was it started?

Ian: Less Common Metals is positioned in a supply chain for both rare earth and non-rare earth permanent magnets. We can point to 30 years of excellence in several areas.

LCM has a comprehensive understanding of our raw material supply chains and is constantly working to keep this knowledge up to date. From the very start, LCM has been independent of any magnet producer. This makes our position in the market unique and enables the company to work closely, and in confidence, with individual magnet makers to develop improved formulations and products. One of our principal products is neodymium iron boron (NdFeB) which is crucial to the green energy transition.

3) CMA: How important is the midstream industry to the UK’s economy?

Ian: In my opinion, the midstream industry is crucial to the UK’s economy and an essential link in the overall supply chain. A well-established midstream operation facility helps to develop both upstream (rare earth separation) and downstream (magnet production) and having a prominent midstream industry in the UK gives scope for accessing larger EU27 markets in addition to growing UK markets for magnets.

4) CMA: What does a secure and sustainable supply chain for critical minerals mean to LCM?

Ian: An ethical, stable, and secure supply chain for critical materials such as rare earths is essential if the technical advantages offered by such materials are to be realised in full. The current global dependence on China for rare earth permanent magnets limits growth opportunities for non-Chinese producers such as LCM. More fundamentally, a balanced and transparent supply chain, focussed on Environmental, Social, and Governance aspects, will create significant opportunities, for LCM Metals in the midstream and for downstream magnet production.

5) CMA: What is LCM's biggest success story to date?

Ian: Our biggest success story to date is when LCM was asked by shareholders to establish a fully commercial facility to produce rare earth metals from oxides. Previous attempts to achieve this had made it clear just how big a challenge it would be to adapt Chinese technology to Western-world production standards. I was very fortunate to enjoy the support of an excellent team, and this resulted in a project that exceeded all expectations in terms of smoothness of operation and achieving all the objectives. For me, the project was an excellent illustration of what can be achieved with correct planning and execution.

6) CMA: Can you tell us about some of the local community engagement LCM has been involved with?

Ian: The local community engagement has been driven by our Marketing Officer, Georgia Macey, through one of our EU-funded Horizon 2020 projects, SecREEts. This project is focused around building a sustainable, stable, and secure European supply chain. LCM understands the importance of educating non-technical people, no matter the age and background, about the rare earth industry and challenges companies like LCM face. Rare earth elements are crucial for the transition to green energy but also for everyday tech like mobile phones, headphones, and laptops. One of the ways we do this is through Citizen Labs, where we invite local organisations and businesses to join us to explore and discuss a range of topics from supply chains to environmental procedures, and we create an open space for questions and answers. More recently, LCM and SecREEts have joined forces with a local science museum, Xplore!, to create mine to magnet workshops which are delivered to local schools. To date, we have engaged 120 children through six hands-on activities to reflect the six steps in the supply chain. LCM are committed to education and will drive this even further in 2022.

7) CMA: Why did you decide to join the CMA?

Ian: LCM shares the Critical Minerals Association’s view about the highly strategic nature of rare earths and their importance in various modern technologies, particularly for green applications. We look forward to working with the CMA to help establish viable, ethical, stable, and secure supplies of rare earths to support new and growing industries.

Find out more about Less Common Metals here:

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