Miner Cornish Lithium calls for UK Gigafactory action

Miner Cornish Lithium calls for UK Gigafactory action

May 21, 2023

Cornish company mines Lithium

Powdery, lightweight lithium’s power to store an electric charge makes it a key element in rechargeable batteries of all sizes. From grid generation and vehicles to electronic devices, it is a vital part of the world’s transition to renewable energy and to meeting increasing demands for portable mobility.

China is the leading supplier, but shortages dog the market while transport costs and supply chain security are growing concerns.

Step forward then Cornwall whose rocks and geothermal waters deep underground are revealing lithium deposits.

It’s those that could herald the county becoming the home of a new industrial revolution, reaping a host of benefits from reliable and lower supply chain costs and domestic stability to new technologies and sustainable extraction processes that respect the environment and those living locally. 

Cornwall was once a prodigious producer of tin and that too is proving more than a historical fact or Poldark storyline because the wealth of legacy data created then is now making a valuable contribution to Cornish Lithium’s evaluation work.

“One ton produced is one less imported. We are playing to the UK’s chemical engineering strengths and are rejuvenating Cornwall’s 4,000-year mining legacy with best practice and pioneering green technologies,” declares mining engineer and banker Jeremy Wrathall. 

A former student of Cornwall’s Camborne School of Mines, Wrathall founded the business in 2016 and has set, as its first target, producing battery grade lithium hydroxide to serve the UK’s £67 billion automotive industry. 

The business has two extraction methods. One, Direct Lithium Extraction, involves drilling boreholes deep into the earth to access the warm geothermal water that contains the mineral.

The lithium is then filtered out, involving processes that could also supply heat as a by-product for communities and horticultural companies’ greenhouses.

The other method operates in a repurposed china clay pit at Trelavour Downs near St Dennis where, using Australian company Lepidico’s low heat technology, lithium will be extracted from hard rock. 

“There’s no need to roast the ore to extract the lithium which would have been at odds with our goals,” explains Wrathall. 

Following a positive scoping study, a borehole drilling campaign is now underway with the demo plant testing feasibility. 

Battery-focussed metals investor TechMet is Cornish Lithium’s major backer supplying a £18million funding package, while Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership has put £2.9million into the development of the geothermal direct extraction pilot plant. 

The company will be looking to raise new funds this year and grow the team of 70 to 300 by 2026 when the hard extraction side alone is forecast to generate a £250 million project value.  

But once the lithium is produced, the prospects are less electrifying as it will need a cathode active materials producer making it fit for use for a battery Gigafactory.

Because the UK does not have these, they are now the glaring industrial gaps it desperately needs to fill as quickly as possible.

“We could have a market for our lithium overseas but, after all this effort and investment, exporting would be a crying shame,” declares Wrathall.  

“What the UK must have now is an industrial strategy to ensure our domestic lithium stays at home and benefits our economy and its low carbon targets. We are about securing a long term future, not short term gratification.” 

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