UK facing green industry supply chain pressures, urged to boost recycling and productivity

The UK is facing a supply chain crunch on critical components needed for green industries like electric vehicle (EV) manufacturing, with a new Green Alliance report calling for the UK to build up domestic recycling of these valuable materials as part of energy saving measures.

UK facing green industry supply chain pressures, urged to boost recycling and productivity

EVs are just one manufacturing area that could be hit by supply issues

The Green Alliance’s new report, published today (19 November) warns of growing pressures for UK green industries based on supply chains.

The report warns that use of lithium, cobalt, silver and rare earth elements in production of low-carbon technologies like EVs could exceed the nation’s per capita share of critical raw material reserves by 2050. Currently, China controls around 60% of the global mine production and 40% of the rare earth metal reserves.

In response, the Green Alliance is calling on UK policy to help build up the domestic recycling of valuable materials, as well as improving energy efficiency, to overcome these barriers.

The Green Alliance argues that improving freight efficiency, insulating homes and increasing public transport use and car sharing could halve the UK’s total use of critical resources by 2030. In tandem with this, the UK could also scale up recycling of green products and components could meet almost all of the UK’s critical raw material demand for EVs wind turbines and solar panels from secondary materials by 2050.

The Green Alliance’s senior policy adviser Susan Evans said: “With net-zero, there’s also a big opportunity for the UK to become much more resilient and self-sufficient.

 “By investing in making our homes more efficient and improving public transport, we can cut the amount of energy we need to use and, therefore, reduce our reliance on imported critical raw materials. This is also about ending needless waste. It would mean keeping these valuable materials in use, creating jobs in new recycling industries, and lowering household energy bills at the same time.”

In 2019, the UK’s fleet of EVs and e-vans contained more than 1,400 tonnes of lithium and 800 tonnes of cobalt, worth £26.3m and £31.5m respectively.

The research suggests that, if recycled, this volume of lithium and cobalt would be enough to make 220,000 batteries for cars, which is 10% of projected sales by 2035. Additionally, this would contribute to the 450,000 jobs which an expanded circular economy can provide.

E-waste mountain

The UK alone is losing at least £13.6m worth of critical raw materials for the net-zero transition, such as lithium, to the linear economy each year, due to a lack of capacity for recycling used electricals and electronics.

That is according to a report from Material Focus, exploring how the hoarding, landfilling and inefficient recycling of used electricals is letting the metals we will need to provide technologies like wind turbines, solar panels, fuel cells and batteries for vehicles go to waste. The report, supported by Giraffe Innovation, is based on two online surveys of local authorities and waste contractors in the UK, which assessed their processes for collecting and processing waste electricals. Collectively, the respondents to these surveys represented 80 local councils. These responses were then treated as representative and scaled up to cover the whole UK.

Matt Mace

Comments (1)

  1. Lawrence Rose says:

    This is just the beginning.

    We cannot get the materials to build ourselves out of this. Straightforward calculations should be telling us that we cannot do what we plan to without very significantly reducing demand and choosing what we do carefully.

    The sooner we realise that, the sooner we can control what we are doing rather than have events control us.

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