electric batteries

Rare elements recycle plan targets supply security

The UK has launched a new research project to create the ability to recycle tonnes of rare earth elements, as it looks to enhance its future supply chain resilience.

The scheme, is designed to recycle a range of elements which, are essential for technology such as electric vehicles, wind turbines and smart phones.

Rare earth elements are a family of critical minerals used in products ranging from electric vehicle motors to washing machines. They are vital to the economy, as they are used to create vital components in products ranging from laptops to aircraft.

But supply chains are complex and markets are volatile, with most critical minerals sourced from just a handful of countries,” said the government spokesperson. “This leaves UK jobs and industries vulnerable to market shocks and geopolitical events, which is why the government is working to help UK firms establish resilient and sustainable access to critical minerals.”

The £15 million funding will launch the CLIMATES (Circular critical materials supply chains) programme, delivered by Innovate UK, to develop work on rare earths by researchers and businesses across the country. This will support innovations in the recycling of rare earth elements, as well as research and development, engagement with international partners and activities to identify and support future skills needs. The programme will also look to unlock further private investment in projects to develop resilient supply chains for these important resources.

Nusrat Ghani, minister of state at the Department for Business and Trade, said: “Rare earth elements underpin so much of what makes everyday life and work possible, from the cars we drive to the phones we use. It is essential that, in a rapidly changing world, we do all we can to ensure resilient supplies of these and other critical minerals.

“The impact of Russia’s illegal war in Ukraine on energy prices has been a timely reminder of how important supply chains are for all parts of our economy. That’s why we are laser-focused on securing robust supply chains, for the growing, green industries that will deliver jobs and prosperity across the UK in the decades to come.”

Mike Biddle, executive director for Net Zero at Innovate UK said: “Now is the time to build UK capability and a sustainable supply of rare earth elements, working with international partners. The rising costs of energy has demonstrated the importance of resilient global supply chains. Our CLIMATES programme will work with businesses, investors, and industry bodies to deliver a series of activities, from funding competitions to networking events and workshops, all designed to drive growth in the sector and build resilient supply chains to help us strengthen our economy and meet our environmental targets.”

Production of critical minerals of all kinds is expected to rise sharply – some as much as 500% by 2040. The government  said it is working to ensure the UK secures a “strong foothold” in this growing market by supporting key investment in related industries.

In July 2022 Pensana launched the UK’s first-ever magnet materials refinery in East Yorkshire, a £145 million facility that will secure hundreds of jobs and form an important part of the UK’s electric vehicle supply chain. In November 2022 Green Lithium announced they would build the first large-scale lithium refinery anywhere outside of Asia, in Teeside. Both investments are supported by the government’s Automotive Transformation Fund.