Ensuring essential metals supply
4 January 2012
Wales' bid to become a leader in low carbon technologies could be 'at risk' unless action is taken to address the short-fall in the supply of essential metals used in low-carbon transport and wind power supply, an international Cardiff conference hosted by Cardiff University and Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales will hear this week.
Academics from the School of Earth and Ocean Sciences and the Museum will join international experts at the University and National Museum Cardiff to address the challenges posed by the world's current mineral supply, including metals that are essential for modern society and emerging green technologies.
"Certain metals are indispensable for modern technologies, such as catalytic convertors in all cars, cancer drugs, and new generation electromagnets and fuel cells. Imagine a world with no touch screen mobile phones, no tablet computers or flat screen monitors – that's how critical these metals are to everyday life," according to Dr Iain McDonald from the School of Earth and Ocean Sciences and expert in geochemistry.
"Two important groups of metals, known as Rare Earth Elements (REE) and Platinum-Group Elements (PGE), are key members of these "strategic metals" due to their importance and restricted supply. For example, 97% of the world's REE production comes from one country, China. And around 80% of the platinum and rhodium used in modern autocatalysts and fuel cells comes from a single source, South Africa."
Both REE and PGE are vital to help countries like Wales mitigate the impacts of climate change by using green technology to develop low-carbon transport and generate electricity from sources like wind.
Dr McDonald adds: "Given the hugely restricted market dominance of these commodities, we will be vulnerable to supply restriction, which may have a direct effect on our ability to develop these new technologies on the scale necessary to deliver our promised carbon reduction targets. This has now been recognised by government, which has launched a new £7m initiative - the Security of Supply Minerals Programme - under the auspices of the Natural Environment Research Council."
"Cardiff University and Amgueddfa Cymru, in association with the UK's leading mineral deposit association, are providing a platform for some of the world's leading mineral experts from academia and industry to find out not only how to discover new supplies of these vital mineral resources, but also how to extract them efficiently to help us meet our green energy ambitions. This will also be the first conference where the UK geoscience community will be able to feed ideas into the developing new Minerals Programme."
Dr Richard Bevins, Keeper of Geology at Amgueddfa Cymru said: "We warmly welcome the geoscientists to this extremely important conference, especially those who are joining us from a host of overseas countries, making it a truly international meeting."
The 35th Annual Meeting of the Geological Society's Deposits Studies Group takes place at Cardiff University and National Museum Cardiff between Tuesday 3rd January and Friday 6th January. The core session of the meeting is "Securing Strategic Metals for the Low-Carbon Economy".