UK identifies several areas to scour for vital rare earth metals in push for minerals sovereignty

Pembrokeshire, Wales was one of the areas recognized by the British Geological Survey to be prospective for critical raw materials.
Matthew Horwood | Getty Images News | Getty Images
Several large swathes of the U.K. on Monday were identified as prospective sites to search for critical raw materials, reflecting the country’s push to deliver a domestic supply of rare earth minerals that are seen as crucial for a clean energy transition.

A report, published by the British Geological Survey, found eight areas across the country that have the right geology to be prospective for critical raw materials such as lithium and graphite.

Critical raw materials are economically important minerals and can be used to make the batteries and semiconductors that are vital to the global shift away from fossil fuels.

Some of the regions identified as “particularly worthy” of further investigation include parts of the Scottish Highlands, areas in mid-County Tyrone in Northern Ireland, northwest Wales and Pembrokeshire, parts of Cumbria in England and southwest England.

The report was produced on behalf of the government-funded Critical Minerals Intelligence Centre, the country’s first-ever center established to collect and analyze information on the supply of critical minerals.

The mapping of these prospective areas for critical raw materials represents one of the first steps in the U.K. government’s critical minerals strategy. The aim of which is to make the country more resilient to critical mineral supply chain disruption by fueling the growth of domestic capability.

Authors of the report highlighted that the identification of an area as prospective does not necessarily indicate it will be targeted for exploration and mining.

They also note the analysis focuses on geological evidence and does not consider possible development constraints or other societal or environmental factors.

‘Absolutely vital to our way of life’

Eimear Deady, a mineral resource geologist at the British Geological Survey, said that “only one in a thousand potential mineral exploration projects ever becomes an operating mine.”

“Much more research is required and, if prospectors find evidence of commercially viable CRM deposits, they will have to go through the well-established planning process. If prospectors find evidence of commercially viable CRM deposits, they will have to go through the well-established planning process,” Deady said.

“The areas we have identified, along with other parts of the UK, are underexplored and we need more systematic research to understand the potential availability of CRMs in our country.”

The British Geological Survey said in its report that the U.K. has 18 metals and minerals on its critical raw materials list, with another six commodities recognized as being of “high criticality.”

It says these are currently nearly exclusively obtained from mining and refining operations in other countries, although tungsten has been mined in the U.K. in recent years.

Kathryn Goodenough, co-author of the report and a principal geologist at the British Geological Survey, said some critical raw materials — like lithium, tin and graphite — are typically the primary products of mines, whereas others are produced as co- or by-products.

“Where mining develops for other commodities, it is always important that miners also assess the potential for CRMs in their deposits,” Goodenough said.

“Other countries like Canada, the USA, Norway, Sweden and Finland are also mapping their own geological potential as they too understand the risk of continuing to rely entirely on global supply chains for minerals that are absolutely vital to our way of life.”