Professor John Loughhead, Chief Scientific Advisor & Director General from BEIS has contacted ALFED CEO Tom Jones to seek information regarding level of preparedness ALFED & our members may have in place to mitigate disruptions to, or price fluctuations in, the global trade in rare earth materials and products. Be sure to contact Tom with your thoughts or leave us a reply at the bottom of this post.
Rare Earth Materials and Products
Rare earth elements are materials of increasing importance in the production of high-performance magnets, materials, semi-conductors and catalysts. Over recent decades China has been the dominant source of the minerals from which they are extracted, but more recently also a mass manufacturer of the magnets, alloys and components based on such materials. Recently China has signalled that it may restrict trade in its rare earth materials and products. Many UK manufacturers rely on a range of these materials to create products such as jet engines, catalytic converters, semiconductors and high-grade alloys. It is unclear whether China will act on their threat but there is precedence from 2010 when they imposed rare earth export quotas on Japan.
Disruption in global supply would have an indirect effect on the UK but there is a risk of commodity price volatility and of disruption to supply-chains to the detriment of the UK’s manufacturing and research sectors, as well as our ambitions to transition to a low carbon economy. The impact on the UK is difficult to predict but it could slow the transition to electric vehicles and the decarbonisation of the energy supply with renewable energy. The EU imports 100% of its rare earth elements, 40% of which come from China and less than 1% are recycled. The UK has historically taken the view that market forces will ensure a secure supply of materials and there should be a limited role for the UK Government in managing risks, as many are the responsibility of businesses.
I am writing out to a collection of companies and organisations, such as yours, to seek information regarding level of preparedness your company may have in place to mitigate disruptions to, or price fluctuations in, the global trade in rare earth materials and products. We wish to develop a more informed picture of the UK exposure to this potential global trade risk.
Therefore, we are particularly interested to know:-
- To what extent your business depends upon a ready supply of rare earth materials, other materials incorporating them, components (such as magnets) based upon them, or devices exploiting them (such as permanent magnet motors);
- Whether you already have multiple sourcing options, which do not depend upon a single source supplier such as China;
- Whether you have considered, and have contingency plans to handle any future supply restrictions or interruptions;
- Any other considerations of importance not mentioned above.
The Government will use the information gathered in this consultation to understand whether there is more we could do to engage with or support UK businesses in this area.
Professor John Loughhead CB OBE FREng FTSE
Chief Scientific Adviser, BEIS