Resource Use Strategies – Minerals

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Background

Over the next 40 years, analysis suggests that investment in energy innovation could reduce the cost of meeting the UK’s low carbon energy goals by £600 bn. These savings would reduce the upward trend in energy costs across the economy making the UK more competitive. Furthermore, energy technology development could result in UK business opportunities totalling at least £18 bn to 99 bn to 2050.

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However, recent surveys have identified that some UK executives, particularly those in the manufacturing sector, are concerned about the availability of metal mineral resource inputs and the economic impact that it may have on UK competitiveness  – potentially jeopardising energy goals and green growth opportunities. The Energy Research Partnership (ERP) has undertaken a review of mineral resources in order to assess whether resource availability will represent a significant risk for UK energy innovation and system development to 2050; it was undertaken with UKERC’s work on Minerals Availability. The review has highlighted the following key issues regarding the availability of metal minerals:

  • Resources concerns are not a new phenomenon.  Recent concerns have been stoked by the rapid rate of growth of emerging economies and ecological impacts of resource consumption.
  • Energy systems are increasingly dependent on metal minerals as a result of the proliferation in the use of exotic elements and the increased mineral intensity of new energy technologies; many are essential in the development of the low carbon energy system to 2050. Consideration of primary supply of minerals is important in the near term, not only because of the expansion of energy systems but also because the long lifetime of assets means that minerals are `locked-in’, unavailable for recycling for many years.  Recovery and recycling, however, are likely to be critical and should be taken into account in current decisions.

Project

This project was given the go-ahead at ERP’s April 2012 Plenary meeting. A Steering Group initiation meeting took place in mid-2012 with a view to producing preliminary findings and a final report (a joint ERP-UKERC publication) in late 2014.

The report has now been released with a summary policy paper and a full policy paper available to view.

Conclusions and recommendations

The key messages from the review are:

  • The most potentially significant metal minerals constraint risk to UK energy innovation and system development to 2050 may be posed by the volatility in price and potential disruptions to the availability of `technology metal minerals’ used in both conventional energy generation and low carbon technologies. Supply uncertainty is the key concern. The availability of technology metal minerals at reasonable economic costs is essential to facilitate the rapid commercialisation of the low carbon energy system.
  • Although there is no absolute shortage of any metal mineral resources, absolute availability is not a meaningful guide to prospective future production and availability, because of the impacts of economics and geopolitics. The key constraints are related to the volatility of price and potential supply disruptions. The uncertain abilities of ecological sinks to assimilate anthropogenic generated waste from the exploitation and processing of metal minerals are likely to present further challenges.
  • Resource risk assessments require a system based perspective, especially of supply and demand side issues in order to account for market dynamics and ensure the development of appropriate policy responses. There is a concern that some metal mineral assessment tools are likely to lead to inadequate and miss-directed policy responses.
  • The impact of metal minerals non-availability on the UK economy has yet to be quantified, and is likely to be similar to other mineral consuming nations. However, the UK’s response to the issue has tended to be non-interventionist. This is in contrast to proactive initiatives that other governments are taking, particularly in the securing of upstream supply and funding research into developing secondary sources. In the long run, the UK is therefore likely to be at a comparative disadvantage and should markets remain tight, the ability to develop a high value manufacturing sector could be jeopardized and the value creation opportunities of implementing mineral security measures will be missed e.g. material efficiency through better design, reuse and recycling technology development.

With these in mind, the ERP makes the following recommendations to ensure the UK has a globally competitive energy innovation sector:

  • The location of responsibility for the monitoring of metals mineral non-availability risk and opportunities should be better defined in government.
  • Resources risk assessments require a more holistic perspective of supply and demand side issues, on a mineral by mineral basis, in order to account for market dynamics and ensure the development of appropriate policy.
  • Market transparency and the needs of upstream supply actors should be a priority. Transparency measures include the development of awareness of minerals use in energy technologies, impacts of minerals policies enacted by supplier nations, improved datasets and more open pricing mechanisms should be encouraged when there is sufficient liquidity.  Primary supply initiatives include increasing the availability of risk capital for Junior miners exploration operations in unstable regions and encouraging investment and R&D in refining capacity.
  • Investment into recycling, materials efficiency and substitution research initiatives should be improved and co-ordinated with the UK manufacturing and design sector – with immediate attention on design for recovery and recycling.  Awareness of the impacts of the interaction of these policies needs to be researched.

Follow-up activities

TBA

Working Group

Project Chair: Martin Grant – Atkins

Project Steering Group:

  • Richard Neale -Atkins
  • Ian Glover -National Grid
  • Simon Cox -Defra
  • Rebecca Heaton -Shell International
  • Duncan McLaren – Friends of the Earth
  • Cameron Rennie – BP
  • John Miles – Arup
  • Chris Franklin – Research Councils (NERC)
  • Jocelyn Bleriot – Ellen MacArthur Foundation
  • Simon Schillebeeckx- Imperial Business School

Further information

Please contact Dr. Mark Workman from the ERP Analysis Team.

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