Thursday 12 August 2021 10:54 am

Record levels of lithium found in Cornish waters as mining boom gathers steam

The world’s highest concentration of lithium in geothermal waters has been found in Cornwall as England’s westernmost county cements its burgeoning status as a hub for the critical metal.

Geothermal Engineering said that it had found concentrations of more than 250mg per litre in waters beneath its United Downs project near Redruth.

Based on the findings of these tests, the firm said it could produce 4,000 tonnes of lithium per year by 2026.

That’s a considerable chunk of the 59,000 tonnes of the metal the Faraday Institution estimates that the UK will need by 2035.

Lithium is a key metal for the manufacturer of batteries for electric cars, which are seeing rapid demand growth due to the government’s announcement that sales of new petrol and diesel vehicles will be banned from 2030.

The decision has led to a surge of interest in Cornwall’s deposits of the rare earth metal as manufacturers seek to guarantee supply chains.

At the moment, most of the world’s lithium supply is controlled by China, with batteries then shipped around the world to automakers and engineers.

But with growing concerns over the world’s second-largest economy’s monopoly over the battery market, steps are being taken to develop onshore supply alternatives.

Geothermal Engineering is one of a number of companies focused on extracting lithium and other similar metals from Cornwall.

It is hoped that the surge in demand for such minerals could reinvigorate the county, in a echo of its long mining traditions.

Ryan Law, managing director of Geothermal Engineering Ltd said: “Deep geothermal heat and power are already set to help the world reach net zero targets. The addition of lithium production with no carbon footprint or environmental damage will help to drive more geothermal projects forward in the UK and offer more opportunities for green jobs.”

“If the UK is to reach the government target to produce only electric vehicles by 2035, we have to find more sustainable and geopolitically more reliable ways to deliver lithium batteries.

“Establishing meaningful onshore lithium production in the UK would also encourage a lithium-ion battery-based economy to develop in the UK, and could attract further important inward investment opportunities for Cornwall and the South West.”