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Critical materials: examining the materials that are critical to our sectors and economy


The aim of the report is to provide an understanding of the experiences that companies have in relation to the issue of critical raw materials supply compared to other supply chain issues. It also seeks to provide insight into the key factors that influence companies’ decision-making in relation to this issue at present and in the future.


The initial stage of the research consisted of a literature review of existing studies which discuss the ‘criticality’ or strategic importance of raw materials. Strategies published by the Scottish and UK governments in relation to the issue of critical raw materials were also analysed, as well as those published by other countries both within and outwith the European Union. An industry consultation on critical raw materials was also conducted with respondents from the following sectors: food and drink; energy - oil and gas and renewables; life and chemical sciences; textiles; aerospace, defence and marine; manufacturing; forest and timber technologies; construction; and technology and engineering. Key stakeholders were primarily identified via trade associations, and engaged through a combination of email surveys and telephone and face-to-face interviews.


The research found that Scottish companies view raw materials as crucial to their business, however they are aware of, and are experiencing, supply-related difficulties. Materials that have undergone some processing/refining were identified as of particular importance by consultees, and four raw material inputs were highlighted as important across all sectors: steel, water, copper and plastics. It was suggested that for steel and plastics, there were issues in terms of obtaining the right grades or qualities, such as high-grade steel for wind turbine or pipeline construction. Issues with copper were identified as being associated with price changes in global markets, and problems in relation to a reliable and cheap source of large volumes of water were highlighted across several sectors, and particularly in the food and drink and chemicals sectors. 82% of companies who were experiencing existing materials issues indicated that they had taken proactive measures to address these, such as developing new supply options or researching alternative materials.


The report makes a series of recommendations based on discussions held with businesses throughout the consultation process. These include: raise the profile of raw materials issues; interventions to bring supply chain organisations together; incentivise sustainable supply chains; a knowledge exchange platform for supply chain strategy; and continue to develop links between research organisations and businesses.

Author Oakdene Hollins
Published Year 2014
Report Type Research
  • Sectors
    Chemical sciences, Construction, Energy, Food and drink, Forest industries, Life Sciences, Textiles
  • Enterprise
    Sector-level support