Written evidence submitted by The Institute
of Materials, Minerals and Mining (IOM3) (SIM 03)|
The Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining (IOM3)
is in broad agreement with the Terms of Reference defined, in
the form of five questions, put forward by the Parliamentary S&T
Comments on each of the Terms of Reference / Questions
are given below. It is suggested that, before the answers to the
five questions can be delivered with sufficient confidence to
define actions, additional information is likely to be needed
and discussions need to be initiated with overseas supply chain
partners. IOM3 is willing and able to assist with the gathering
of the required information from its international network and
to facilitate the discussions.
2. TERMS OF
2.1 Is there a global shortfall in the supply
and availability of strategically important metals essentials
to the production of advanced technology in the UK?
Given the downturn in the global economy there is
probably not an immediate shortfall. However, the concentration
of production of certain materials, in particular rare earth metals,
in China, means that many industries in the UK are extremely vulnerable.
The recent incident where China cut off supplies to Japan in response
to a maritime incident is an illustration of the potential problems.
2.2 How vulnerable is the UK to a potential
decline or restriction of supply of strategically important metals?
What should the Government be doing to safeguard against this
and to ensure supplies are produced ethically?
It is recommended that these two questions should
be separated in the Terms of Reference.
2.2.1 Vulnerability - The UK is as vulnerable
as other countries, eg Japan, the USA and those in the EU that
have advanced technology industries which depend on supplies of
materials which are supplied by a single country.
2.2.2 Safeguards - The UK could in collaboration
with international partners encourage and co-fund the re-opening
of mines that were recently closed because of low cost competition
from China. The UK could also, in collaboration with partners
in Europe, establish facilities for the ethical recycling of discarded
products that contain extractable strategic metals. Both options
require detailed studies to determine the viable options in terms
of locations and investment.
2.3 How desirable, easy and cost effective
is it to recover and recycle metals from discarded products? How
can this be encouraged? Where recycling takes place, what arrangements
need to be in place to ensure it is done cost- effectively, safely
For the mature metals sectors there is a well developed
recycling infrastructure which, because of the intrinsic value
of the metals, is economically, highly viable. Metals recycling
in the automotive, construction sectors are highly advanced (levels
> 90 % for some metals), domestic waste stream management strategies
are also improving metals recycling from packaging. Electrical
goods are now subject to the WEEE directives and are increasing
being recycled. The challenges for increased metals recycling
are based around consumer behaviour, separation technologies and
also by the design for dismantling of techniques which are now
increasingly common in product design.
The recycling industries' business models are similar
to any mainstream businesses, some operating with ISO9001
and or ISO 14001. All will be subject to the usual H&S,
COSHH and Environmental regulations. Some will have fully developed
CSR policies in line with increasing customer interest.
High technology industries rely on materials that
are very precisely defined in terms of composition and processing.
Recycled materials of unknown provenance are not attractive alternatives.
A new industry could be created which recycles safely and ethically
the valuable strategic materials contained in junked electronic
products. More details studies are needed to define the cost effectiveness
of closely controlled recycling including design for recycling.
2.4 Are there substitutes for those metals
that are in decline in technological products manufactured in
the UK? How can these substitutes be more widely applied?
Substitution is almost always difficult and expensive,
not least because of the long term investment in the refinement
and testing of the incumbent materials. Hence substitution costs
are often less dependent on the relative raw material costs than
on the demonstration of equivalent performance in the end product.
In addition many products would need to re-designed to accommodate
the substitute material
In many electronic the products the unique properties
eg of neodymium magnets have enable the minaturisation of many
end products and substitutes are not obvious.
2.5 What opportunities are there to work internationally
on the challenge of recovering, recycling and substituting strategically
International collaboration is essential if any effective
solution is to be found to the current threat. The Institute of
Materials, Minerals, and Mining is uniquely placed through it
UK and International Membership to facilitate discussions and
is willing to do so.
In the long term, concerted action, such as plans
to re-open mines and recycle materials more effectively, by countries
threatened by supply problems of strategically important materials,
is needed to secure a less vulnerable supply chain for the advanced
technology industries in the UK and other countries.
Norman Waterman FIMMM
Chairman External Affairs
Chairman Sustainability Group
14 December 2010