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Technology metals at risk

iphone.jpgThe new British Geological Survey (BGS) Risk List 2012 ranks the threat to the global supply of the metals and other elements which are vital to our modern economy. The list highlights high-technology, ‘critical’ metals such as rare earths, tungsten and antimony where production and resources are concentrated in a few countries and so are at greater risk of supply disruption. The Risk List 2012 will help to focus future exploration activity, as well as research on greener production technologies and more cost effective recycling.

The supply of many metals and other elements used in high-technology products such as batteries, magnets, mobile phones and PCs is ‘at risk’. Increasing global demand for metals and minerals has lead to a greater competition for resources. Policy-makers, industrialists and consumers are increasingly concerned about the risk to the supply of these critical materials.

The Risk List 2012 gives an indication of the relative risk to supply of 41 elements or element groups based on their abundance, production and reserves, as well as the political risks in producing countries. In addition, and new for the 2012 Risk List, the recycling rate and substitutability of these elements are considered in the analysis of supply risk.

The much anticipated release of the iPhone 5 and Win Phone 8 typifies the demand for high technology products that rely on a large number of critical metals for their manufacture. Much of the demand comes from the relentless growth in the emerging economies in Asia and South America. Critical metals such as rare earths, tungsten, and antimony have the highest supply risk, whilst the supply risk of other metals such as aluminium, copper and zinc is lower. The list shows that China dominates production of many metals and other elements. It is the leading global producer of 22 of the 41 elements listed.

Andrew Bloodworth, Head of Minerals and Waste at BGS explains “we need to diversify supplies of some metals, especially those critical in delivering a low-carbon economy and digital technologies, by finding new resources from the Earth, recycling more and doing more with less.”

The Risk List was first introduced in 2011 by the BGS at the British Science Festival at the University of Bradford. The updated Risk List for 2012 includes eleven fewer elements than the 52 included in the Risk List 2011. This is because of a lack of available data and quality issues.

Download the Risk List 2012 from www.bgs.ac.uk/downloads/start.cfm?id=2643