Recovered material could supply half the cobalt for UK electric vehicles

Embargo: 00:01 Thursday 14 June 2018
Libby Peake Libby PeakeHead of resource policy020 7630
The UK is 100 per cent reliant on imports of the critical raw materials needed to manufacture electric vehicles and other low carbon technologies. Scarcity of supply and volatile costs threaten to hold back new UK industries. But extracting the elements from discarded UK products could provide a new reliable, domestic supply.

New analysis by think tank Green Alliance, on behalf of the business group the Circular Economy Task Force, examines the UK’s potential to reduce its reliance on imported critical raw materials, including rare earth elements and cobalt.

The study finds that reclaimed materials from products that are currently wasted could fulfil over a third of rare earth element demand and half of cobalt demand for UK low carbon technologies by 2035. [1], [2]
Cobalt is rated as a very high risk import, and its price has tripled in the past two years. [3]

The report shows how targeted government policy could help to secure vital resources needed for the UK’s electric vehicle industry.

It recommends setting new minimum standards for reused and recycled content and using government procurement to stimulate a new market for the reclaimed materials.

The government is uniquely placed to address the market failures that have led to the waste of valuable resources and the over reliance on virgin materials, to the detriment of the environment, industry and the economy.

The report also recommends setting a roadmap to overcome technical barriers. It says, to ensure a reliable market, long term strategy should provide certainty for investors, facilitate new collaborative problem solving initiatives and ratchet up ambition over time.

Dr Colin Church, CEO of CIWM, the professional body for resource and waste management, and chair of the Circular Economy Task Force, said:
“The UK can build on its current strong position and be a world leader in the move to low carbon energy and electric vehicles. But to do this, we need to make sure we keep hold of the valuable materials that are needed and reduce our reliance on imports, making them available to UK industry. A number of other countries have already developed clear strategies to support the future of their high tech industries and there is a great opportunity for the UK to catch up. But that will only happen if the government and industry act together now.”
Libby Peake, senior policy adviser on resources at Green Alliance, said:
“The UK could be the leading EV manufacturer in Europe. As of 2016, 20 per cent of electric cars sold in Europe were made in Britain. Major players like BMW and Tesla are securing supplies of critical raw materials, the government could attract EV manufacturers and shore up UK industry by guaranteeing a stable and sustainable supply of these materials here in the UK.”

 Libby Peake, senior policy adviser – resources, Green Alliance (available for interview), 020 7630 4529
Notes for editors
[1] Completing the circle: Creating effective UK markets for recovered resources is available at: It is the sixth report of the Circular Economy Task Force, a business led group convened by Green Alliance. It is a forum for policy, innovation and business thinking on resource use in the UK. The current members are: Aquapac, Boots, Kingfisher, Viridor and WRAP.
The report also examines how policy could create secondary markets for two other materials vital to the UK economy and used in the UK’s car industry: plastic and steel, finding that:
  • a secondary plastic market could recycle an additional two million tonnes of plastic in the UK and fulfil 71 per cent of UK manufacturing’s plastic demand;
  • domestic markets for secondary steel would revitalise the steel industry by boosting production of high value recovered steel products, while reducing iron ore imports by 40 per cent and cutting carbon emissions from steel production by about 30 per cent.
[2] Images depicting the potential changes that government policy could bring about in material flow for cobalt and rare earth elements are included below. This analysis is based on the assumption that the government will bring forward the ban on new petrol and diesel vehicle sales to 2030. The figures would change if it maintains the current plan to phase them out by 2040. Full methodology for the analysis is available on the Green Alliance website at: