Supply Chain Integrity -Transparent, Traceable & Trusted

By George Hazim

Integrity will be the focus for mining companies to march toward, and it is Grant Erskine, CFO of Perth based scientific technology company Source Certain International (SCI), strategizing and driving the change.

Sometimes it’s the little-known facts that echo with deafening effect, especially when circumstances dictate an interesting narrative.

Rare earth minerals that help make neo magnets used to power the electronics of cars and mobile phones of today have also been tagged with a dark and checkered past.

How they are sourced is shrouded in controversy, but that looks like it should end, where a new landscape is being paved – a supply chain built on integrity.

And integrity will be the focus for mining companies to march toward, and it is Grant Erskine, CFO of Perth based scientific technology company Source Certain International (SCI), strategizing and driving the change.

The traditional role of a CFO has evolved. No longer are they just a company’s numbers person. They are now strategists – giants of business, making the likes of Erskine a formidable asset.

It’s no coincidence USA Rare Earth (USARE), operators of the Round Top-Heavy Rare Earth and Critical Minerals Project in Texas, sought SCI to partner on a major paradigm shift around the legitimacy of the mining of rare earth minerals.

The partnership is expected to add value and ensure the supply chains of global manufacturers sourcing rare earth minerals are legitimate – a move the US minerals company has been looking to make.

To succeed, it needs a certification program that validates the provenance and source of its minerals, and it starts with one powered by scientific provenance verification technology.

USARE’s partnership with SCI is not only enforcement of good governance, but a shot across the bows of global manufacturers.

The readiness and availability of technologies like those of SCI mean ignorance can no longer be a defence for companies sourcing rare earth minerals from suppliers whose processes are ethically or morally compromised.

The pressure is now on for companies to change how they operate and work within trusted supply chains programs, like the ones SCI is establishing.

USARE prioritised the need to have independent robust systems that provide environmental, social responsibility and other quality assurance information for customers and consumers of rare earths, lithium and other critical strategic materials from Round Top and other sources into USARE’s mine-to-magnet supply chain.

USARE’s partnership with SCI provides US manufacturers, technology companies and renewable energy producers proof of provenance to support their own Environmental Social and Corporate Governance (ESG) initiatives and assurances to their customers.

The strategy Erskine has engineered requires mining suppliers of input material to sign onto a transparent, traceable and trusted supply chain program.

For that to happen, USARE has to begin as a single company and create a best practice system that is adopted by rare earth supply chains looking to access the US and Australian markets.

USARE’s supply chain transparency initiative comes as the US Government focuses on domestic supply chain integrity concerns ranging from availability, manufacturing and social responsibility to matters of national and economic security.

US President Joe Biden has signed an Executive Order instructing a review of supply chain vulnerabilities within the US to strengthen the country’s resilience and capacity for independent delivery of critical goods and materials.

SCI’s technology supports USARE’s requirement for a transparent, traceable and trusted supply chain for its rare earth and lithium products like its permanent magnets. It also ensures the verification and provenance of all of USARE’s products.

Furthermore, SCI forms an integral part of USARE’s mine-to-magnet and mine-to-market strategy – underpinned by its ESG commitments to ethical and sustainable sourcing and manufacturing in the US.

Pioneered in the ’70s, SCI’s technology was used as a “gold fingerprinting” tool, linking stolen gold to its mine of origin.

Now, the technology, known as TSW Trace® is used by SCI as a scientific verification and investigative tool in the supply chain of all global industries, including mining. The scientific nature of this technology means physical sample analysis is performed to determine product provenance. The unique chemical, molecular, elemental and isotopic composition of a sample mirrors its precise geographical origin. TSW Trace® is a ground-breaking provenance verification tool in an industry dominated by digital verification methods.

As a CFO responsible for the commercial strategy at SCI, Erskine says it is critical SCI embeds its technology in programs that incentivise and reward business activity that delivers on the sustainable and ethical production of renewable energy and EVs – advancing a more environmentally sustainable future.

“This program redefines the industry standard for rare earth sourcing and sets a new benchmark for other commodities and supply chains to follow,” Erskine says.

Global trends suggest an increased demand for critical and strategic minerals (CSM) and with it a movement toward greener technologies requiring these vital input materials.

But current geopolitical tensions are leading to supply security concerns and a demand for ethical sourcing as an industry standard. To safeguard itself, the US is securing supply and forming for what resembles a trading block.

For the US to achieve its objective, it has extended invitations to Australia, Europe, UK, Japan and India to reduce supply dependence on politically non-aligned countries.

And while Australia joins the US in its quest to clean up the industry, it is also securing supply and adding value to the national battery industry.

The Future Battery Industries Cooperative Research Centre (FBICR) brings together almost 60 industry groups, eight universities, the CSIRO, and Federal and State Governments together to create an Australian-based battery industry to power Australia’s future.

With some $130m in reserve, the FBICRC will position Australia as a leader in battery industries and create a generation of highly skilled workers equipped to deliver the energy materials, systems and accreditation processes of the future.

According to Erskine, bringing together industry, researchers, government and the community to ensure Australia plays a leading role in the global battery revolution.

“Our work,” Erskine says, “is critical in making Australian industry more competitive by harnessing research skills and industry expertise required to create new economic opportunities – through secure, sustainable and trusted materials and products for the renewable energy and EV industries.”

“This applies to mining the input materials, manufacturing them and most importantly moving from a primary producer role to creating a full value chain of battery production in Australia.”

Australia’s Critical Minerals Strategy document in 2019, stated the industry’s strategy was, “the development of Australia’s critical minerals sector, including downstream processing and manufacturing opportunities, by attracting investment, supporting innovation and connecting opportunities with infrastructure.”

Implementing the ACMS strategy would reinforce Australia’s credentials for environmental and social responsibility through the authentication of materials using scientific provenance technology to verify the origin of Australian mined CSM and rare earths.

Erskine says, “SCI and its scientific provenance verification technology will be critical to helping the CRC drive an industry-wide standard where ethically and sustainably sourced and manufactured claims are robustly verified.”

“It will help ensure the financial incentive and reward for the battery minerals sector for delivering on ethical, sustainable and transparent mining practices that could set an example for other commodities and supply chains to follow.”

Cameron Scadding, SCI’s Managing Director says, “In our line of work we see the good and the bad. We’re excited to work with USARE and support their strategy to incentivise global mining operations to sustainably and ethically mine input material for the Neo Magnet plant in Texas.”

According to Erskine, it will be the sound of integrity and ethically sustainable supply chains that will now echo throughout the corridors of global manufacturers.

“This will be the best sound of all and for the raw earth minerals sector, it will be a reverberating echo worth listening to,” Erskine says.