Critical minerals in technology

Critical minerals resources: Modern life doesn't grow on trees

From phones and laptops to headphones and tablets, this section is based on the elements extracted from spodumene and quartz, and the element cobalt, that we use to make our technology.

© P. Kijsanayothin / iStock
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© P. Kijsanayothin / iStock

Spodumene is an ore of lithium, which is an essential element in rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. Global production of lithium averages at 66 000 tonnes per year. The demand for lithium is expected to continue to grow in the coming years, driven by the rapid expansion of the electric vehicle market and the increasing use of renewable energy technologies. Almost everything with a rechargeable battery contains lithium, including power tools, mobile phones and even vapes!

Lithium is a critical mineral in the UK because the global supply of lithium is limited and most of the world’s lithium reserves are located in a small number of countries including Australia, Chile and Argentina. This concentration of reserves in a limited number of countries, combined with the growing demand for lithium, has led to concerns about the security and sustainability of the global supply chain.

Quartz is the mineral ore of silicon and has a wide range of uses resulting in a global production of 2.8 million tonnes per year. Used for smartphone screens and processors as well as solar cells, it plays an essential role in modern technology. Despite being the second most abundant element on Earth, silicon is a critical material in the UK because of the volume that is required to meet demand.

Cobalt is a critical raw material that plays a vital role in the production of rechargeable batteries used in electric vehicles, smartphones and laptops. It is also used in aerospace and defence applications, as well as in the manufacture of hard metals and cutting tools. Cobalt’s unique properties, including its ability to retain its magnetic properties at high temperatures, make it an essential component in rechargeable.

The majority of the world’s cobalt supply comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which has led to concerns about the sustainability of the global supply chain. There have been concerns over labour practices and human rights issues in the DRC’s cobalt mines.

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