Lithium discovery – a mining revival in Cornwall?

Cornwall, the southwest county in the UK is mostly known for its beautiful beaches. But, recently it drew the attention of people globally for a completely different reason. Redruth, a small town in Cornwall, had something in its hot-springs that was discovered only recently by Cornish Lithium—high-grade lithium.

This region is not a stranger to mining. In fact, in the late 19th century, the town was home to a globally competitive tin and copper mining industry. However, by the late 20th-century mining ventures in the area declined considerably due to more lucrative finds elsewhere. But this discovery can potentially put the town of only fifteen thousand people back on the map. Moreover, this discovery comes at an important time as more and more countries are promoting the adoption of electric vehicles—which requires lithium batteries—to combat climate change.

The hot springs have been tested before. In the 1980s “presence of consistent levels of lithium enrichment in the fluids” has been found. However, only recently could this concentration be extracted directly from the geothermal fluids economically using new technologies developed in recent years.

Cornish Lithium states: “Initial results indicate some of the world’s highest grades of lithium and best overall chemical qualities encountered in published records for geothermal waters anywhere in the world.”

The hot springs on an average were found to have a high lithium concentration of 220 mg/l. Additionally, the samples had significantly lower levels of magnesium concentration, which makes processing lithium costly. It also has low levels of dissolved solids concentration, which is considerably lower compared to several geothermal water sources found worldwide. Apart from Lithium, the site can also potentially produce other significant elements such as boron, rubidium, caesium and potassium.

What makes the new lithium site important is its high sustainability. Therefore, the lithium extracted will be ethically sourced and environmentally responsible. The company described it as: “Geothermal waters which contain lithium are very different from other occurrences of lithium in brine given that the same water can be used to generate zero-carbon electrical power and heat.”

Jeremy Wrathall, CEO & Founder of Cornish Lithium, said: “This is an exciting step towards the realisation of low-carbon lithium extraction from geothermal waters in Cornwall, and complements Cornish Lithium’s work to date on exploring for lithium contained within shallower geothermal waters in the County.” The company believes that there might be other sources spread across the Geothermal waters of Cornwall.

The company is further collaborating with Geothermal Engineering Limited to create an extraction plant that uses Direct Lithium Extraction (DLE) technology. It will extract the element from water circulating under layers of granite rocks in Cornwall. Given the discovery being a game-changer in the field of lithium production, the project is partly funded by the UK government through the ‘Getting Building Fund’ initiative, amounting close to £4 million. Cornish Lithium on its website explained the benefits of their extraction plan as: “The pilot plant will then be used to demonstrate that lithium hydroxide, a key component of lithium-ion batteries used in electric vehicles, can be produced in Cornwall from naturally occurring geothermal waters with a net zero carbon footprint. Domestic production of this critical metal is vital for the UK to deliver its zero carbon and clean growth ambitions.”

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