Interview with James McFarlane, Managing Director of Tungsten West Plc explaining the importance of the Hemerdon Mine as a strategic asset for Britain.
Last week, the Government launched the UK’s critical minerals strategy and one of the aims contained within it is to accelerate the growth of the country’s domestic capabilities to mine critical resources.
The Strategy states: ‘The world in 2040 is expected to need 4 times as many critical minerals for clean energy technologies as it does today.’
James McFarlane, MD for Tungsten West, shares his views about the Strategy and the topics it covers. He says: “The long-awaited Critical Minerals Strategy is of real importance to the UK, and particularly our green agenda.
“Lots of people who are very supportive of the net-carbon-zero target do not appreciate it will not be possible to achieve without mined products. We need to make this clear so that we can get the support of people to back our domestic efforts to mine critical metals.”
The Strategy advises that solely relying on others to source the materials we need for everyday life is no longer an option. It states: ‘Critical minerals will become even more important as we seek to bolster our energy security and domestic industrial resilience – in light of Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine – and as we move away from volatile, expensive fossil fuels.’
James explains: “You need only look at the price of energy today, and indeed, the tumble of the Euro in recent weeks to grasp that relying heavily on a single supplier for a key commodity is not a wise move.
“People across the world are currently paying the price for an over-reliance on Russia for the supply of gas. This should be a valuable lesson to us all and we need to take positive steps to ensure we are not exposed across all our key supply chains.”
What is a critical mineral?
Tungsten is a critical mineral – it has been assessed as a metal of ‘high criticality’ to the UK in the Strategy, which will be conducted annually as part of the function of the new Critical Minerals Intelligence Centre (CMIC) and led by the British Geological Survey (BGS).
26 materials were assessed for their potential criticality to the UK economy in terms of their global supply risk and the UK economic vulnerability to such a disruption. Eighteen of the these have a ‘high’ potential criticality rating based on these criteria, and constitute the UK Critical Minerals List. Tungsten is on it, and so too is tin – both of which are found at the Hemerdon Mine.
Tungsten also features on the critical minerals lists for Europe and the US. This is largely due to China’s current dominance in the supply of tungsten world-wide, which stands at around 82%.
James continues: “Experts around the world are telling us that securing a sustainable, ethical supply of tungsten is crucial…enter Tungsten West.
“The Hemerdon Mine has the third largest deposit of tungsten in the world and, once operational, is set to single-handedly catapult the United Kingdom into the third largest tungsten producer in the world.
“And we are right here, in Devon, poised to create local jobs, support the local and national supply chain and pump millions into the economy through start-up investment, let alone our ongoing contributions through taxes and national insurance contributions!”
Why do we need Tungsten?
Tungsten has the highest melting point of all metals and therefore also the highest application temperatures. It’s very low coefficient of thermal expansion and high dimensional stability are also unique. Tungsten is nearly indestructible.
James said: “We like to call tungsten an enabling metal - you will find it anywhere it gets really hot. Because when it comes to heat resistance, no metal can keep up with tungsten.”
It is much harder than steel and is more resistant to fracturing than diamond. These properties, its strength and ability to withstand high temperatures, mean it has some incredible uses in the modern world, particularly in commercial and industrial uses.
Based on end-use, the global tungsten market is segmented as automotive parts, aerospace components, drilling, boring and cutting equipment, logging equipment, electrical and electronics appliances, and other end-uses including chemical, defence equipment, coating and joining technology, medical technology and many other uses in important industries worldwide.
Increasingly, the use of tungsten is being explored in connection with the green agenda. Only recently, H.C Stark Tungsten Powders released information about its latest research into the use of tungsten-based coatings in lithium-ion batteries to increase lifecycle and safety. Lithium-ion batteries are used in electric vehicles, which we know will be crucial in our ambition to become net-zero.
James continues: “Tungsten is needed for the manufacture of much of the green technology we are pinning our hopes on in our efforts to stop climate change, such as wind turbines, electric vehicles and solar panels.
“In short, without tungsten and other critical minerals and metals, our green agenda cannot be realised.
“That is why we need to mine tungsten, and if we are going to mine it in the most sustainable and ethical ways possible, we can no longer turn a blind eye to where we source it from…we need to take responsibility and do it ourselves where we can and where we are strictly regulated to ensure we do it properly.
“That’s why we need the Hemerdon Mine up and running as quickly as possible.”
Sustainable and ethically produced tungsten
Tungsten and tin are both considered conflict minerals because, like gold and tantalum (the 3TGs), they originate from parts of the world where their production is used to directly fund conflict. The mining of tungsten is also associated with child labour in some parts of the world.
Tungsten West by contrast will ensure a sustainable supply of socially responsible and ethically produced tungsten and tin are available to the west.
James says: “Given the current geo-political situation across the globe, it is more important than ever to reduce the UK’s reliance on imports of critical raw materials from other countries. If we can become more self-sufficient as a nation, we de-risk our vital sustainability and innovation agendas, which rely heavily on materials such as tungsten and tin.
“Naturally, what we’d like to see is whole-hearted support from the Government so that we are working together for mutual benefit. But we also need the support of those living locally to the Hemerdon Mine.
“We know we have a lot to do to gain the trust of people living locally. All I can say is that everyone working at Tungsten West is prepared to put in the effort to build relationships, work with the community and surrounding businesses and create the kind of sustainable and ethical mining operation that Plymouth and the wider community can fully support.
“What is incredibly important is that people understand how critical it is for the UK to have access to reliable and ethically sourced raw materials.”
Tungsten West recently announced its revised plans to bring the Hemerdon Mine back into operation during 2023, with a project that uses less energy and aims to tackle the legacy issues experienced by previous mining operator.
Regular updates on the progress of the project will be posted on this blog page.
1 August 2022