How the government’s Critical Minerals Strategy will impact tech supply chains

Steven Haskew

The circular economy must be at the heart of the government’s Critical Minerals Strategy in order for it to be successful, says Steve Haskew, Head of Sustainability at  Circular Computing.

Modern-day society revolves around our reliance on the critical minerals that are used in the production of increasingly essential technologies such as transport, smartphones, computers and medical devices. As the technology evolution continues to integrate with everyday life, we are becoming more reliant on sourcing new mineral supplies to keep up with booming demand.

Over the last few decades, we have become more and more reliant upon sourcing cheap critical minerals extracted from remote parts of the world, which have in turn created complex geopolitical supply chains.

It is said that in 2040, the world will need four times as many critical minerals for energy technologies as it does today. But with the volatile nature of the critical mineral market, countries like China have emerged as dominant figures over our essential resources. The tech industry, so reliant on such critical minerals, has faced growing issues with supply chains over recent years, such as the global chip shortage, and the demand for minerals is set to be one of the next crises of our time.

It is therefore vital that the tech industry, especially here in the UK, starts to address and review its supply chains to ensure it is both protected from global impact, and also focuses on sustainable practice to provide long-term security and prosperity.

What is the UK Government doing?

The government recently announced the launch of its Critical Minerals Strategy, an important step forward towards protecting and better managing our natural resources, both here in the UK and abroad.

The strategy outlines plans for improving the resilience of critical minerals supply chains and increasing the UK’s security of supply. With the vital importance of critical minerals to industry in the UK, the strategy is part of a wider sustainability push from the government.

By starting this journey, the UK government is hoping to make UK businesses pioneers in the green industrial revolution, leading the way in the responsible extraction of minerals. The overall goal is to support UK companies in building responsible and diversified supply chains overseas.

Although it’s only a strategy, much remains to be seen about whether these changes will have the necessary impact to protect and better manage the UK’s use of critical minerals.

Threats to the supply chain

There are growing concerns about risks that pose a threat to the UK’s stability of supply. The global demand for specific minerals is starting to outweigh supply chain capacity, which will mean supply will struggle to keep up with demand.

Such a disconnect between supply and demand for critical minerals is part of a wider field of issues including ongoing geographical issues, such as high concentration of extracting and processing in volatile regions, manipulation of prices, disregard for sustainability and many other ESG issues.

To overcome these, the government’s strategy outlines an approach aiming to improve critical mineral supply chains.

  • Accelerate the UK’s domestic capabilities by ‘maximising domestic production’, ‘rebuilding mining skills’, ‘research and development to solve supply chain challenges’ and ‘making better use of circular economy by increasing recovery, reuse, and recycling rates’.

  • Collaborate with international partners to ‘diversify supply across the world ensuring stability as supply grows’, ‘encourage overseas participation from UK companies’ and ‘develop diplomatic, trading and development relationships’.

  • Enhance international markets to ‘boost ESG performance’, ‘develop transparent markets’ that are well functioning and ‘champion London as the world’s capital of responsible finance for critical minerals’.

The circular economy must be a focus

One part of the strategies that should not be overlooked is the focus on the circular economy. It is no surprise that with our planet’s finite resources, we must start to solely focus on reusing and reproducing what we have already extracted. Accelerating the circular economy will be key here – so the outlined commitment towards innovation, financial support, and regulation for a more efficient circular economy for critical minerals in the UK is a positive step in promoting sustainability and economic recovery.

The circular economy helps to reduce the pressure on the environment, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and ultimately improves security of supply chains by using existing resources rather than mining further minerals. With continued investment, second-life products no longer need the tag of being second rate; innovative products with long durability and an improved quality of life are being produced in a variety of industries and the tech sector is a key example of where it can be successful.

Remanufacturing is changing habits for the better

At Circular Computing we recently announced we hold the world’s first BSI Kitemark for remanufactured laptops, certifying that the remanufactured products are as good as, or better than new. This means high-quality modern technology can be utilised, while reducing the impact on the planet and with up to 40% cost savings compared to the latest models. Our unique Circular Remanufacturing Process re-uses 99% of the original materials to remanufacture a laptop and the last 1% goes into recycling, meaning zero waste and no new minerals extracted.

In fact, to manufacture the necessary materials to create each component of one single laptop, 1,200 kg of the Earth’s resources are mined and consumed.

Innovative processes such as remanufacturing are therefore helping to directly avoid the depletion of many of the Earth’s limited, critical resources that are part of the original manufacture of every new piece of tech. Whether it’s water, precious metals or minerals, remanufacturing protects them whilst ultimately also reducing emissions of CO2 greenhouse gases.

Shaping future supply chains

It is imperative that businesses and the public sector start adopting more sustainable ways to procure products and services. Whether that’s sustainability in the environmental, economic or operational sense, furthering the use of the circular economy and adhering to best practice when auditing supply chains will be key.

The Critical Minerals Strategy laid out by the government is a nice message, but it must now be followed up with concrete action from all parties. The government must support supply chains and protect UK industries in the resourcing of critical minerals, while UK businesses must begin to be more aware of their use of resources.

The circular economy will form the centre of success behind the strategy and the government needs to continue to push the narrative that critical minerals need to be protected nationally and globally for future sustainability. Methods such as re-using, recycling or remanufacturing will be vital in helping to save companies money, time and reach ever-looming net-zero targets.