Cornish Lithium, the Cornwall-based mineral exploration and development company, has completed the construction of a low-carbon lithium extraction test site to bolster the UK’s domestic EV supply chain.
The company’s geothermal water test site at United Downs was designed to trial several direct lithium extraction (DLE) technologies.
Working with technology providers Geolith and Precision Periodic, Cornish Lithium will try to determine the strategies most suited for low-carbon extraction from Cornish geothermal waters.
Initially, Geolith, which specialises in microfibre materials that act as a filter to capture lithium, will run a demonstration plant for three weeks starting from 9 June.
Results from United Downs tests will inform the development of a larger pilot plant, which Cornish Lithium plans to build by next March.
Cornish Lithium’s announcement comes days after The Times reported that the company is preparing an £80m IPO for next year ahead of plans to start producing lithium as soon as 2025.
The company said it has an opportunity to play a “significant role” in establishing a domestic supply chain for the UK’s EV industry following reports that Nissan is in discussions over building a battery gigafactory in Sunderland.
Jeremy Wrathall, CEO and founder of Cornish Lithium, said: “This will not only boost the regional and national economy as the UK transitions to net-zero carbon; it will also position Cornwall at the heart of the green industrial revolution, continuing a proud 4,000-year history of mineral extraction and innovation.”
Meeting Europe’s lithium demand
Demand for lithium, a key component of EV batteries, will continue to grow if the UK is to meet both its net-zero pledge and its plans to phase out petrol and diesel cars. However, most global lithium production takes place in Australia, Chile and China.
In 2020, the EU added lithium to its list of critical raw materials in an effort to reduce reliance on other markets. Europe’s largest lithium producer, Portugal, produced about 1,200 tonnes of lithium last year – less than 3% of what Australia produces annually – but sold most of it to the ceramics industry.
In a similar move, the UK government recently identified the extraction and supply of minerals such as lithium as a priority and has committed £9.4m to fund the development of ‘innovative automotive technology’.
Cornish Lithium received a share of that funding in April for the Trelavour Hard Rock Lithium Scoping Study, which is conducting tests on optimising lithium extraction from mica minerals in granite.
In December 2020, Cornish Lithium paid £2.3m for a 15-year royalty-free technology licence from Australia Stock Exchange-listed Lepidico, which provides Cornish Lithium with what it says is an innovative and environmentally responsible metallurgical processing solution for the Trelavour project. The company expects to produce battery-grade lithium chemicals from the mica concentrate with this process technology.
The Trelavour project has now finished its second drilling campaign, the results of which will enable Cornish Lithium to publish its initial resource estimate and define the potential scale of the project this autumn.
These breakthrows follow an announcement in January that a UK Research + Innovation-funded consortium, which included Cornish Lithium, successfully produced high-purity lithium carbonate from sources in Cornwall and Scotland.
At the time, Wrathall said: “Given the potential that has been established by this project to exploit lithium resources in Cornwall, it is possible that the UK could produce a significant percentage of its lithium demand domestically, thus creating a vertically-integrated supply chain and generating additional value for the UK economy.”