Critical raw materials

BGS Research

Mineral raw materials are fundamental to human existence. ‘If you cannot grow it, you have to mine it.’ All minerals and metals used in manufacturing, including recycled material, have ultimately been mined from the Earth’s crust.

What are critical raw materials?

Global concerns are growing over the long-term availability of secure and adequate supplies of the minerals and metals needed by society. Of particular concern are the ‘critical’ raw materials, so-called because of their growing economic importance and high risk of supply shortage.

The ‘fourth Industrial Revolution’ is using a combination of novel technologies (e.g. digital systems and devices; renewable energy and energy storage; electric mobility; autonomous vehicles) that are being deployed at an unprecedented scale and speed. These technologies utilise a wide range of minerals and metals, which are provided by global supply chains that are vulnerable to disruption.

Minerals-and-metal-research
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Timeline of the development of critical raw materials’ significance in the global economy. BGS © UKRI.

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Critical raw material research

We study critical raw materials and vulnerability to supply disruption by monitoring global mineral production and trade, mapping supply chains and analysing markets. Our mineral deposit science focuses on advancing understanding of the Earth processes that produce deposits of critical raw materials in terrestrial and submarine environments.

We collaborate with government, academia and industry to deliver integrated research across the entire value system for critical raw materials. Our sustained activity in this area has greatly raised the profile of critical raw material security-of-supply issues and has influenced the research agenda for this topic in the UK and Europe.

Many of our datasets and publications are available on our dedicated minerals web portal.

As long as mineral raw material consumption rates grow, we will continue to need to extract minerals and metals from the Earth. Until recently, many of the critical raw materials have largely been neglected by the research community. Therefore, relatively little is known about the processes mobilising and concentrating some elements in natural systems to produce potentially exploitable deposits.

Mineral deposit research will enhance our exploration models and ability to identify new deposits and new styles of mineralisation. Combined with systematic exploration in poorly explored parts of the planet, this will lead to expansion and diversification of mineral resources, contributing to greater and more flexible supply.

Our mineral deposit science focuses on:

  • understanding critical raw material-bearing mineral systems in a range of terrestrial, marine and unconventional settings globally
  • ­developing geomodels
  • investigating critical raw material deposits in the UK and assessing geological stocks
  • working with partner countries to improve their knowledge of domestic critical raw material resources and develop research capacity
  • generating data and knowledge to assess the environmental performance of the production of critical raw materials from different mineral deposit types

 

If you want to discover more then please contact Paul Lusty or Kathryn Goodenough.

Lithosphere scale section
Schematic lithosphere-scale section showing the geodynamic environments in which critical raw material deposits form. BGS mineral deposit science unites magma genesis, structural geology, magmatic-hydrothermal processes and understanding of the critical zone to build our understanding of fluid and metal sources, their fluxes and metal inventories during global tectonic cycles. BGS © UKRI

Up-to-date, accurate and high-resolution time-series data on raw material production is fundamental to high-quality minerals intelligence, objective decision making, strategic assessment and contingency planning by governments and businesses.

We have a global reputation as a leading provider of long-term mineral statistical data and associated analysis. An experienced team compiles statistics of mineral production and trade that are published in an online database, as annual books and as customised reports. Quality is assured by participating in international forums and by a regular exchange of information with a range of stakeholders.

Our role as a global data provider includes:

  • maintaining up-to-date and accurate time-series data on mineral commodities
  • collection and analysis of statistical datasets (e.g. mineral exploration activity; resources and reserves; mineral consumption; energy and water consumption; recycling rates, etc.) relevant to understanding material cycles and their footprints
  • providing free, impartial, authoritative information on critical raw materials

 

If you want to discover more then please contact Teresa Brown.

Global production of primary metals
Global production of primary metals and ores in 2017 (tonnes), based on BGS data. BGS © UKRI

Role in decarbonisation

Action on climate change and the transition to a low- or zero-carbon economy are strategic priorities for many countries around the world, including the UK. Our research is evolving to address this challenge, focusing on the critical raw materials that are essential for decarbonisation of the transport and energy sectors.

Ensuring these raw materials are produced in a responsible and sustainable way is an integral part of our supply-chain research. Our work embraces the entire lifecycle of critical raw materials, considering ‘primary’ (extracted from the Earth) and ‘secondary’ (that may be recovered through recycling) resources together as parts of a single system, thereby contributing to the vision of a circular economy.

Raw material supply chains have grown in complexity and size at an exponential rate in recent years. Tracking material flows and stocks in our economies is a major challenge and material supply chains can generate negative environmental and social impacts.

Reducing these impacts and decarbonising the global economy requires multiple interventions, including:

  • low-carbon extraction, processing and refining of primary raw materials
  • increased utilisation of recycled stocks
  • ‘doing more with less’
  • designing products with re-use, remanufacturing and recycling in mind

 

A whole-systems approach is needed to ensure that interactions between the economy and environment are properly accounted for, the optimum stages for intervention are identified and impacts are not hidden by shifting them to other regions or sectors.

This research focuses on:

  • mapping material flows and stocks to identify meaningful interventions
  • adopting a holistic, whole-systems approach that analyses all interactions between raw material supply chains, the economy, the environment and society and quantifies trade-offs
  • understanding the role of circular economy in improving resilience and efficiencies in supply chains and reducing environmental impacts

 

If you want to discover more then please contact Evi Petavratzi.

Global challenges
Global challenges are interlinked and interact with raw material supply chains. BGS © UKRI

Contact

If you want to discover more then please contact Paul Lusty.

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