Network Insight Collaboration Environment - Critical Minerals Flagship

Enabling UK manufacturers to improve the sustainability and resilience of their supply chains through better informed sourcing decisions through the development of a digital toolkit to govern and incentivise data pooling in the critical minerals supply chain.


Critical mineral supply chains are very complex, stretching across hundreds or thousands of companies, from commodity production or extraction, through to consumption, and in some cases re-use. 

These supply chains are controlled by vast decentralised networks of cyber-physical systems such as supply chain management tools, automated warehouses, and connected machinery which are highly fragmented yet hold the data that supply chain executives need across a range of different software systems.

The Critical minerals flagship project aims to improve the sustainability and resilience of these supply chains through better informed sourcing decision making. This will be done through the creation of a suite of digital tools to help govern the exchange of insight and value between companies. This will allow users to map activities, availability, and transit of critical minerals across the supply chain. 

The supply chain scenario to be used in demonstrating the capability and value will be the critical minerals supply chain for the manufacture of electric vehicle batteries. The mineral extraction will take place in Australia with the final product in the UK market.

Why is this important?

The UK Government’s strategy on critical minerals acknowledges that supply is vulnerable and will be outstripped by demand in the medium term without successful intervention. There are considerable international (EU Battery Passport legislation & Catena X, Australia’s mining act) & UK (ONS, DIT and Cabinet Offices Ecosystem of Trust) efforts but all rely on data exchange which indicates that they are following the same path as other initiatives that did not scale.

Digitising supply chains introduces the potential to enable more efficient sharing of data. However, this doesn’t overcome the willingness of organisations to share information related to their business that might be sensitive or that could be exposed beyond the control of the originating organisation.

With the right permissions, users will be able to access insight on the provenance and ESG performance of critical mineral supply chains, playing a pivotal role in the Government’s strategy for more sustainable critical minerals supply chains.

What will the project involve?

The project, titled the Network Insight Collaboration Environment, aims to demonstrate that an innovative approach, based on new and existing technology, will allow supply chains to share insights and data across multiple data platforms, enhancing the efficiency of the supply chain network.

The project will create a collaboration environment demonstrating a range of new concepts addressing data driven manufacturing use cases relevant to the critical minerals industry, such as- “are my EV batteries using conflict free minerals?”.

Some of the key elements of innovation within the collaboration environment include:

  • Privacy preserving techniques allowing insights from data to be shared without sharing the underlying data

Using cryptographic techniques such as zero-knowledge proofs it is possible for one party to prove to another party that a given statement is true, without conveying additional information and without the need for sharing the underlying data.

An environment can be created allowing the sharing of information across a supply chain that overcomes the challenge or the need to share the underlying data.

  • Autonomous software agents that work across multiple systems

This project aims to develop an agent-based systems approach in order to achieve the development of data-driven use cases.

Agents are individual goal-seeking software entities with partial visibility over the ecosystem. As an AI, they autonomously execute actions to achieve the objectives of different stakeholders, obtaining knowledge from each other. Their use already includes a wide variety of use cases such as spare parts management, collaborative forecasting and replenishment and inventory management across supply chains. 

An agent-based system will allow the differing organisational aims and functions required within the system to be executed in order to achieve the overall purpose of the collaboration environment. We will use principles of ‘cooperative AI’ to enable agents to take actions on behalf of organisations, such as query formation, value attribution to queries, and the conservation of privacy, whilst achieving adequate response to genuine queries. 

  • New revenue streams through value attribution of data

Even if information can be shared across a supply chain without exposing the underlying data, there is limited incentive for organisations to do so.

If a data-driven use case has business value for an actor in the system, then the insight used to satisfy that use case has value associated with it. The value may be proportional to the number of different insights required to satisfy the overall use case in question. The environment can attribute value across the system to the data providers who support different use cases, creating a commercial incentive to share insight. 

  • A trusted governance mechanism

With any system involving multiple organisations, trust will always be a major factor in adoption, use and ultimate success. Even with the inclusion of advanced techniques for data privacy and incentive models, all members of the system need to trust that the system is working in the way that they believe it should. The project will aim to deliver a performance monitoring element that will provide participants of the system with transparency over the activities within the system.

By bringing together these different functions the project will demonstrate the foundation of a collaboration environment comprising a range of digital tools, which are able to span multiple data stores or data provenance systems.

Through our partners we will leverage a variety of protocols they already have in market  interoperability for identity, asset transfer, tokenisation, and consensus, enhance these with suitable business and operating models, a system governance mode, and explore the regulatory landscape to enable the infrastructure to grow and become financially self-sustaining beyond the end of the project, enabling new users and developers to adopt these innovations, or build upon them.

Who is involved?

The project, led by Digital Catapult as part of their Digital Supply Chain Hub, will lead on the technical developments with Cambridge Institute for Manufacturing. 

Supply chain integration and regulatory developments are informed by The Centre for Digital Trade and Innovation (C4DTI), a global initiative led by ICC United Kingdom and supported by Teesside University and the Institute of Export (IOE).  The collaboration brings together the Cabinet Office, GIZ in Germany and key Australian stakeholders to ensure that we will have participation across the lithium supply chain and technology companies from mines in Australia, through ports, UK manufacturing and into the EV batteries for cars and other components reliant on critical minerals and rare earth elements manufactured by OEMs in the UK.

We have also partnered with Chainvine, a UK based organisation that has created a platform that increases productivity and transparency in the supply/value chain and helps organisations connect SDGs with the issuance of bonds and ESGs areas of growing importance.

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