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UK government launches lithium mining study



The UK government is funding a study run by Cornish Lithium, the Natural History Museum and mining consultancy firm Wardell Armstrong, that will assess the feasibility of developing a British lithium supply.

Lithium mines in Chile and Australia, owned by Chinese firms, currently dominate the supply chain

The project, named “Lithium for the UK” will spend around £500,000 to explore attainable lithium reserves, including hard rock and brines. It will be funded as part of the government’s Faraday Battery Challenge - a £246m investment into developing battery technology.

The challenge was set up to meet the growing demand for batteries, as required for an increased reliance on renewable energy and electric vehicles among other things. The energy storage industry is estimated to be worth £5 billion in the UK and £50 billion in Europe by 2025.

Lithium-ion are the most effective form of rechargeable battery and make up a significant portion of the cost of an electric car. But the Natural History Museum has warned that without greater investment in raw material extraction - primarily Lithium - the UK will not be able to meet its target for all cars to be electric by 2050.

“The UK itself has potential for some of the metals needed for these new vehicles, but currently we do not have a clear measure of that local potential,” said Richard Herrington, head of earth sciences at the Natural History Museum. 

“Society needs to understand that there is a raw material cost of going green.”

Currently the UK’s lithium supplies are imported from factories in China, where it is processed after being extracted from mines in Australia and Chile. 

But with materials potentially available and extractable within the tin mining region of Cornwall, the hope is to create a localised supply chain that will make battery technology more affordable for UK industries.

“Presently the UK is totally reliant upon imported lithium compounds, with the vast majority supplied from China, for use in the Lithium Ion Batteries (LIBs) that will power the electric vehicles of the future. This is the first project funded by the Faraday Battery Challenge that examines the potential to provide lithium from UK sources, including rocks and brines. I believe it can be of great significance to development and the creation of a 21st century, green mining industry in the UK,” said Dr Chris Broadbent, Research Director of Wardell Armstrong.

The successful study will create new opportunities for mining jobs in Cornwall and throughout Britain. 

“The Department for International Trade has announced Cornish mining as a high priority opportunity for the UK,” said Jeremy Wrathall, CEO of the start-up Cornish Lithium.

“This has been a major boost for our company and for other companies, such as Strongbow Exploration and Strategic Minerals who are operating in Cornwall. This, together with strong support from the Cornwall Council make mining in Cornwall a very real possibility.”

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