Strategically important metals - Science and Technology Committee Contents

Written evidence submitted by the Society of Chemical Industry Materials Chemistry Group (SIM 08)


[1] Materials Chemistry is a special interest group of the Society of Chemical Industry; it has approximately 400 members drawn from:

  • (i)  The industrial sector, which represent a broad spectrum of basic research and development, manufacturing and processing technology as well as senior managers and directors who are responsible for wide ranging policy development.
  • (ii)  Academics and emerging young scientists that constitute a core segment of UK fundamental and applied research and technology transfer.

[2] The Group, through the Society, is a major forum for bringing together groups of scientists from specific disciplines, fostering exchanges of ideas, forming research and technology networks, identifying future direction and formulating strategic policy.

Through beneficial collaborations with the Royal Society of Chemistry, the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining and the Institute of Physics it provides the main UK spine of interaction for all those interested in Materials Chemistry and related matters.

The Group and the Society membership is therefore a major source of knowledge and opinion relating to metals and alternative materials technologies; for this reason we wish to register our interest and our willing to contribute to this enquiry.

 [3] We note the well established major general increase in the consumption of metals which began in the last century, shows no sign of abating and is likely to be exacerbated by high-volume emerging economies.

[4] We note also the potentially vulnerable position of the UK in that present sources of metals required to fulfil its own needs are largely external.

[5] Since metal recovery and processing are largely energy intensive processes, it is also clear that there exists a paradox in terms of national and world supply in relation to burgeoning green and environmental issues.


[6] The Group and Society interest and expertise impinge on Strategic Metals in a number of key areas, these are described below.

[7] Metallurgists and other scientists working directly in the metal sector and specifically those responsible for strategic planning and new technologies; clearly these have a critical role in both problem solving and deciding lead policy matters.

[8] An additional but critical area is that of alternative materials; here, to give but a few examples, composites provide alternative structural materials, hard coatings (such as diamond and other plasma CVD methods) offer wear-resistance and bearing surfaces, porous carbons for battery and other energy uses and improved efficiency in metal dispersion for catalyst systems all have a huge amount to offer in relieving pressure on essential metal technologies.

[9] Related to [8] are emerging alternative processing technologies which increase efficiency in existing methods or offer new routes to end products with less waste etc. A typical example is low energy separation and extraction methods.

[10] Finally, there are related policy issues of fundamental research, technology development and transfer which in the mid to long term both improve greater efficiency in, and provide viable alternatives to, present metal solutions.

[11] In short, it is our opinion that, though complex, the problems associated with strategic metals are not insoluble and that, amongst others, the membership of the SCI has a critical contribution to make.

Professor Bob Bradley
(Chair SCI Materials Chemistry Group)
Dept. Of Materials
University of Oxford

16 December 2010

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Prepared 17 May 2011