Cornwall’s lofty dream of becoming the UK’s minerals hub took a step closer to reality today, with British Lithium entering into a joint venture with French minerals specialist Imerys to develop a new mine capable of powering half a million cars per year.
This would make the site the largest lithium deposit in the country, with production set to begin in late 2028.
Both companies are looking to create the first integrated producer of battery-grade lithium, targeting 20,000 tonnes of lithium carbonate equivalent as an annual production rate, which could meet roughly two-thirds of the country’s demand by the end of the year.
The project is expected to cost around £575m, with Imerys taking an 80 per cent stake in the venture with British Lithium snapping up the remaining 20 per cent.
It will bring together Imerys’s mining expertise and lithium resources with British Lithium’s technology and pilot plant – which recently produced battery-grade lithium carbonate.
80 to 90 per cent of lithium’s demand stems from its use in producing the batteries for electric cars – making it essential for the UK’s transport needs, with the government planning to phase out new sales of petrol and diesel by 2030.
Imerys had previously announced an £860m mining operation in central France.
By contrast, existing lithium mining operations in the UK are chiefly smaller-scale developments.
Extraction will focus on unearthing sustainable, chemical-free processing from the mica in Cornish granite.
Situated in the St Austell area, the development would create at least 300 direct jobs, the companies said.
Cornwall has an extensive industrial history, having been the centre of tin mining in the 19th century – with the largest tin mine in the county, Dolcoath, at its peak period of demand during the 1880s.
Business and trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch said: “This joint venture between Imerys and British Lithium will strengthen our domestic supply of critical minerals, which is vitally important as we seek to grow the UK’s advanced manufacturing industry and help create the jobs of the future.”
Regarded as the ‘white gold’ of the minerals industry – lithium-ion batteries are the most widely used in the electric vehicle industry.
China currently dominates the processing industry and has significant stakes in mines across Africa and South America.
As it stands, Rystad Energy has estimated there is a near 50 per cent shortfall in domestic lithium production nationwide to meet rising demand, making new projects increasingly vital.
It also follows rival firm Cornish Lithium scrambling for £10m funds by the end of next month to stay afloat.
Downing Street published a Critical Minerals Strategy in July last year, with the government launching a new intelligence centre for research and a taskforce for securing more supplies through international partnerships.