The role of the geologist in securing supplies of critical raw materials
Kathryn Moore, Camborne School of Mines
The raw materials supply chain does not respond rapidly enough to demand or supply shocks, which creates price volatility and potentially also supply shortage. Assessments of the security of raw materials supply have been successful at identifying which minerals and metals are most critically subject to demand-supply imbalances. Critical raw materials include the raw materials used in the development of new and/or advanced technologies and are produced in small quantities, often from a small number of mines relative to base metals, precious metals and industrial minerals. The largest companies are responding to the exhaustion of large deposits of high-grade base and precious metal ore by innovation to increase throughput and processing of low-grade ore to increase life-of-mine and investment security. Smaller operators are able to target small and complex ore deposits for critical metals but may struggle to secure investment and to sell on projects to mining companies with large overheads. An approach is needed that builds secure supply solutions on both long and short timescales, and that increases the competitiveness of small ore deposits for the creation of a larger number of mines with a wider global distribution. The relative merits of large-scale and small-scale mining will be considered in the context of sustainability, fit to the current investment climate and ability to meet demand-supply imbalances. Examples will be presented of ongoing research work, in collaboration with multi-disciplinary partners (academic and industrial), where geologists play a key role at the following intervention points in raw materials supply: (1) research in geological exploration methods for critical raw materials; (2) resource estimation for rapid start-up of small, high grade (± complex) ore deposits; (3) responsive real-time and adaptable mining geology; (4) ethical mining and the development of sustainable post-mining communities. The lecture will conclude with a comment on the future of mining and its significance for the next generation of geologists working to ensure supplies of critical raw materials, where a holistic and whole-system view of managing business risk depends on understanding the speed at which alternative supplies can be sustainably brought into a diverse raw materials market.
The research projects that will be described in the lecture have received funding from: ‘Tellus Border’ INTERREG IVA programme of the European Regional Development Fund, and the European Union’s H2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement numbers 689909 and 730411).
14.30 Tea and coffee served in the lower library
15.45 Questions and answers
16.00 Lecture ends and guests depart