As global demand for industrial raw materials has increased, supply has struggled to keep up. Driven by the industrial expansion of emerging market economies, the resultant commodity prices boom has imposed significant additional cost to industry. In the past decade industrial input prices, for both metals and minerals, have more than doubled.
Figure 1: Historical supply of rare earth elements (tonnes)
This problem has been exacerbated by an increase in both economic and resource nationalism, with the result that some key raw material suppliers have restricted raw material supply by diverting these raw materials to their domestic industries. A notable example of this is China in the case of rare earths, which are critical components in wind turbines, mobile phones and computers. However, increasing geo-political insecurity around the world has added new risks to raw materials supply chain such as conflict in Africa, social unrest in the Middle East and labour disputes in South Africa.
Oakdene Hollins has in-depth knowledge of the metals and mining sector and excellent capability to conduct any analysis including strategic commodity studies, supply chain risk analysis, technology appraisal and technical sustainability projects. We have conducted work for governmental organisations, private companies and investors.
Sustainable supply Read more
Investors have been quick to spot the need and potential profit of new mines, with numerous exploration and development projects underway. However, it typically takes at least ten years for exploration projects to open as a new mine. The road from proving reserves and resources, to demonstrating the feasibility of the metallurgical process, obtaining the necessary permits and licences and realising actual production can be a long one. We work with businesses, conducting research and data analysis of resources and reserves; assess mining risk, and environmental and economic impact.
Opportunities are not limited purely to new mining projects. Existing reserves, mines, facilities, urban mines and spoils offer significant potential. For example, our research has shown that, across the world, there are major base metal smelting and refining operations currently ignoring the potential to recover valuable by-product metals. More speculative opportunities include revisiting old mines and refining sites, which might now be considered to be high grade deposits by conventional standards.
Standards and traceability
At the same time, there is a recognised need to ensure that the highest environmental and social standards are upheld in order to minimise the consequences of mining and refining. We work with companies to interpret the effect of government regulation and policy. Greater traceability along the raw materials supply chain is increasingly necessary. We work with our partners to improve raw materials stewardship by identifying areas of risk along material supply chains and assessing environmental performance and social responsibility.
Supply chain risk Read more
The disruption which followed China’s decision to substantially reduce its export quotas highlighted the supply risks to industries reliant on rare earths. Companies are now becoming increasingly aware of the risks which exist for a much wider range of critical metals, minerals and other raw materials.
Most raw materials do not suffer from absolute scarcity in the Earth’s crust, although they may be dispersed in a way that makes them costly to extract. More frequently, they become unavailable to the market due to their limited supply from a small number of high grade sources or suppliers, combined with policies developed around resource nationalism or export taxes and quotas. Bottlenecks can also exist in transport, semi-finished goods and final product manufacture.
The issues in defining risk are complex, varying considerably according to the raw material, product and company concerned. Oakdene Hollins conducts extensive research for national and EU government and industry groups. This places us in a unique position to interpret risk for business in these areas and to identify responses to mitigate materials security, such as opportunities to recycle, reuse and substitute materials. Recent work includes a study for a major retailer on the material risks along their supply chain.
Market studies Read more
Our market studies provide detailed data on production, use and trade to inform strategic decision-making. We provide valuable expertise for partner companies across metals and mining markets, particularly in the field of minor and speciality metals. These include commentary and forecasts on the market outlook.
Tellurium is a case in point. For this important material for thin film photovoltaic solar, official data identified the origin of only a quarter of world production. Oakdene Hollins filled this data gap, conducting a survey on behalf of the Copper Study Group to determine the tellurium production in copper refineries.
Other raw materials remain less well quantified. We provide regular supply-demand studies which are valuable in order to keep abreast of the latest market developments.
Emerging technologies Read more
Governments are encouraging investment in low carbon technologies, from wind-energy generation to electric vehicles. We are well placed to offer advice on the technical, financial and political challenges of such investments. Security of supply of raw materials is essential to the provision of current and emerging low carbon technologies.
Rare earth metals are a case in point. The current generation of hybrid and electric vehicles and wind turbines uses substantial quantities of rare earths, particularly in the form of high-strength magnets for their drive motors. Different supply risks exist with the lithium, cobalt and graphite used in their rechargeable batteries.
Our research for the European Commission JRC shows that other technologies are also reliant on critical raw materials. These include energy efficient lighting solutions, catalysts, semiconductor materials for photovoltaic solar thin films, high temperature superalloys for aerospace and printed circuit boards used within ICT and electronic applications.
Recycling and resource efficiency Read more
Recycling and resource efficiency are important solutions to the challenges of resource security, environmental protection and business competitiveness. The recovery of secondary raw materials has considerable potential to complement primary supply.
Recycling is a key approach to dealing with material security concerns. Taking advantage of this "above ground mine" requires that materials are recovered efficiently rather than being dispersed in waste streams after use. This can be done through improved collection, sorting and pre-treatment, as well as investing in new technologies. We work with companies to help maximise the value and quality of secondary materials and assess the market opportunities for recovered materials.
Traceability of secondary raw materials is often important in evaluating the recovery opportunities for metals. We offer significant expertise on conducting material flow analysis to track the raw materials content of products and their end-of-life fates. For example, our material flow analysis on waste electrical and electronic equipment has helped inform government policy and business strategy on the opportunities for recovering critical raw materials in these products.
Reuse and remanufacture
The benefits of reuse and remanufacture should be promoted as it offers the potential to considerably extend the lifetimes of products and conserve raw materials that are often currently difficult to recover, although improved design of products for the end-of-life also has a role to play. Repair generates significant levels of skilled employment in Europe, and we work with industry and government agencies to develop effective standards which are necessary to underwrite and reward legitimate operators.
Some of our reports in this area are available for download; others are sensitive and are not for publication. If there are further questions that you have on this issue please contact us.
Within each industry sector, Oakdene Hollins has expert knowledge where we employ science-based disciplines to deliver research and consultancy projects within a number of key services
Oakdene Hollins is registered to EMS ISO 14001:2004. The international standard that specifies a process for controlling and improving an organisation's environmental performance