Areas from the Highlands to south-west England have the right geology to be prospective for several critical raw materials such as lithium and graphite, according to a new report.
BGS has produced a report identifying areas of the UK prospective for critical raw materials for the Critical Minerals Intelligence Centre (CMIC). It is a national-scale assessment of the geological potential for critical raw materials (CRMs) in the UK. It represents one of the first steps in the UK Government’s critical minerals strategy, which aims to make the UK more resilient to disruption in critical mineral supply chains by accelerating the growth of domestic capability.
CRMs are those minerals that are economically important, like those needed to make the batteries and semiconductors that are vital for the clean energy transition, and that are at the greatest risk of supply chain disruption. The UK has 18 metals and minerals on its CRM list, with another six materials classed as having elevated criticality. These are almost exclusively obtained from mining and refining operations in other countries, although tungsten has been mined in the UK in recent years.
Critical raw materials in the UK
BGS has identified large parts of the country as prospective for CRMs. The key areas identified as ‘particularly worthy’ of more research are:
an area around Loch Maree near Gairloch, Scotland
parts of the central Highlands and Aberdeenshire, Scotland
areas in mid-County Tyrone, Northern Ireland
parts of Cumbria, England
parts of the North Pennine orefield, England
Mining in the UK has a long history and many of the prospective areas have been mined before. For example, the Llŷn Peninsula of North Wales was mined for many years for manganese, which was originally important for steel making. In the future, the manganese deposits could be important for battery production.
BGS used a mineral systems approach, which relies on the concept that minerals of a certain type are formed by a combination of particular geological processes. The team identified the geological processes necessary to form CRM deposits and mapped these criteria against the UK’s available datasets, which include maps of the geology, soil and sediment geochemistry, and mineral occurrences.
Our report identifies the parts of the UK where the geological criteria have been met and therefore have the potential for deposits to occur. There are no guarantees. The report focuses on the geological evidence and does not consider potential constraints on development, for example where there are areas of outstanding beauty, villages and towns, or other environmental considerations.
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. Only one in a thousand potential mineral exploration projects ever becomes an operating mine. 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 UK and mining
Mining in the UK stretches back to prehistoric times. Currently, gold, barite, fluorite, gypsum, potash and polyhalite are among the minerals being mined. Exploration for many raw materials is occurring across the whole of the UK.
Some CRMs, like lithium, tin and graphite, are typically the primary products of mines. 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.
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.