The UK must expand EV recycling to avoid supply risks, says report

The UK’s green industries will face critical raw material supply risks unless action is taken now, warns a new report by think tank Green Alliance.

Looking at the projected use of lithium, cobalt, silver and rare earth elements by the UK’s low carbon industries, the report found that the UK will easily exceed its per capita share of critical raw material reserves by 2050. 

China currently controls 60% of global mine production and 40% of rare earth metal reserves, the authors warn that there are significant supply chain risks to UK businesses. 

However, the UK can limit the threat of supply risks if it builds up its domestic recycling of valuable materials and cuts energy use, reducing the pressure on technology growth.

Through economy-wide measures, such as improving freight efficiency and insulating homes, and by increasing car-sharing, public transport and active travel, the study shows that the UK could halve its total use of some critical resources by 2030 compared to our current trajectory.

photography of excavators at mining area

But if the UK also rapidly scaled up the recycling of green products and their components, the country could meet almost all the critical raw material demand for electric vehicle batteries, wind turbines and solar panels from secondary materials by 2050.

In 2019, the UK’s still small fleet of electric cars and vans contained over 1,400 tonnes of lithium and 800 tonnes of cobalt, worth £26.3 million and £31.5 million respectively. 

Green Alliance’s analysis suggests, if recycled, that volume of lithium and cobalt would be enough to make 220,000 battery-electric cars, which is 10% of projected new sales in 2035.

Susan Evans, a Senior Policy Adviser of Green Alliance, 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.’



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