19 Jan A new ‘gold rush’ for Cornwall: New £50billion mines could be Europe’s sole source of precious lithium
- Poldark country’s vast granite stores also contain large amounts of lithium
- Metal is known as ‘white petroleum’ and is the main companant of batteries
- Most lithium is produced in mines South America, Australia and China
- But Cornish Lithium now hopes to become Europe’s top producer
- Lithium can be extracted from withing rock or from salt water pools or springs
Cornwall looks set for a £50billion mining revolution after plans were revealed to make Poldark country Europe’s sole producer of lithium.
Lithium – known as ‘white petroleum’ – is used in the rapidly growing market for electric cars and rechargeable batteries in everything from mobile phones to cordless vacuums.
Most lithium is produced in South America, Australia and China but there are vast quantities locked inside its large granite stores up to 1,000 metres below the Cornish soil.
But with no European source the UK Government has earmarked lithium as a metal of strategic importance to the country and new mines could be opened or existing ones brought back into action.
Map: Most lithium is produced in South America, Australia and China but there are vast quantities locked inside its large granite stores up to 1,000 metres below the Cornish soil (circled in red)
Cornwall’s mining industry dates back to pre-historic times and its abundance of metals has been suggested as one of the reasons why the Roman’s invaded Britain – but it collapsed in the last century
TV miner Ross Poldark (pictured in one of his tin mines) has brought Cornwall’s mining industry back into the public eye
Mining company Cornish Lithium wants to use new technology to extract lithium from hot spring brines in the granite deep underground in Cornwall.
Veins of lithium can run through rock or can also be extracted by evaporating it from seawater containing the element.
The firm announced that it has secured a mineral rights agreement with Canada’s Strongbow Exploration and Mineral Exploration and has also reached agreement with significant landowner Tregothnan Estates to carry out exploration for lithium across Cornwall.
It hopes the move will put Cornwall ‘back on the map’ as a mining centre and lead the UK into an exciting market.
The company believes the exploration project would be the ‘largest, single, unified mineral exploration programme in Cornwall’s history’.
Jeremy Wrathall, chief executive of Cornish Lithium, said: ‘We believe the potential benefits of developing a lithium industry in Cornwall will be significant for the county and for the UK as a whole.
‘We believe that this is a hugely exciting opportunity to put Cornwall back on the map as a mining centre as well as develop a new industry in the UK.’
The lithium market is expected to quadruple to £70 billion by 2020, with demand driven by the dramatic switch towards electric cars across the world.
German car giant Volkswagen has said it wants up to 25 per cent of its sales to be electric vehicles by 2025.
The potential for the market has seen the price of lithium more than double over the past 18 months and is now worth between 10,000 US dollars (£8,114) and 18,000 US dollars (£14,606) a tonne.
Mr Wrathall, 53, who owns Cornish Lithium with his wife, is hoping to raise £5million to start initial exploration tests, with around four or five well drills expected to be set up under the agreement, which covers a large area centred around Camborne, Redruth and St Day in Cornwall.
It could lead to ‘significant’ new jobs in the county and help revive its once enormous mining industry.
Ignored lithium stocks could be worth billions
Lithium has been named a strategically important mineral for the UK by the Government because of its scarcity and importance for developing industries.
At present, it is mainly mined in remote, difficult-to-reach and therefore costly parts of Chile, Australia and Nevada in the USA.
Without a home grown source of lithium, the UK would be vulnerable to shortfall as global demand increases, but now all that is set to change and put us firmly on the map.
The development in Cornwall will give the UK access to its own supply of the element, the market for which is expected to quadruple to $70billion by 2020.
Lithium occurs in natural, hot brine springs under Cornwall and extraction is said to be clean and environmentally friendly, as well as offering the prospects of generating geothermal energy.
High levels of lithium readings were first recognised as long ago as 1864 in water flowing into Cornish mines but until now the technology hasn’t existed to extract it in quantities large enough to turn a profit.
Also, historically the soft, volatile metal was regarded as of little use because it effectively had no market, and when the mines in Cornwall closed it was largely forgotten.
Plans: Cornish Lithium Director Jeremy Wrathall (left) and Strongbow Exploration’s Richard Williams sign a deal as Cornwall looks set to mine for lithium
History: Millions of tons of granite have been blasted from quarries all around Cornwall (pictured is rock for Chelsea Bridge taken from Penryn) but the remaining stores contain high amounts of lithium
Cornish Lithium has done a deal with the mining company behind South Crofty Tin Mine in the village of Pool, Cornwall(pictured), which could reopen in 2018
Mr Wrathall added that extraction of lithium is very clean and environmentally friendly, while also offering the prospect of generating power through geothermal energy.
Cornish Lithium has identified the potential for the lithium-loaded brines to be commercially extracted from deep water bearing structures via drill holes and believes that newly developed technology for extracting lithium offers the chance for a viable extraction industry across Cornwall.
Digging for traditional metals like tin was once a mainstay of the Cornish economy and holidaymakers can still see ancient, weed-covered pits on windswept moors and dotted along the rugged coastline.
Despite China and other major countries spending huge sums on mineral exploration, limited new reserves of lithium have been identified…so Cornwall is tipped to cash in.
Cornwall’s mining industry dates back to pre-historic times and its abundance of metals has been suggested as one of the reasons why the Roman’s invaded Britain.
More than a billion pounds worth of tin, copper, zinc and arsenic, were extracted from more than 2,000 operational pits in its industrial revolution heyday.
However overseas competition began to kill the industry towards the end of the 20th century and the few remaining pits were closed after the price of tin collapsed in 1985.
Why does Cornwall have so much lithium?
Until the late 19th Century, Cornwall was one of the world’s biggest exporters of copper and tin.
But the region has another, very valuable resource in lithium. Its presence has long been known, but there was no market for it – up until now.
Today, lithium is increasingly used in batteries for products such as smartphones and electric cars, and now engineers are keep to extract the metal.
It occurs in natural, hot brine springs under Cornwall.
Its presence is believed to be due to the interaction between highly saline water from the region’s sedimentary basin and the granite under Cornwall.
The granite rocks contain lithium which dissolved in the waters that have interacted with the rocks over millions of years.
As a result, this lithium appears in underground hot springs which can be extracted through drill holes at least 400m (1,312ft) into rock.
Engineers can then pumping out lithium-laden water and process it into useful material.
CORNISH INDUSTRY THAT HELPED RUN THE INDUSTRIAL EMPIRE
Cornwall’s rich veins of tin and copper have made it a centre of the mining industry since pre-historic times. Cornish mining interests are suggested as one reason for the Roman invasion of Britain, and medieval documents attest to the productivity of the early mines.
But it was with the advent of the industrial revolution when mining in Cornwall really came into its own, prompted by demand for the valuable metals in industrial production. At its peak, mining in Cornwall employed as many as 25 per cent of the county’s working men.
Although the conditions underground were unforgiving, the work paid better than the alternatives of fishing or farming. Billions of pounds worth of metal was dragged up from the earth during the industry’s late 1800s peak, though the Cornish industry experienced periodic slumps as prices rose and fell due to competition and new technology.
By the latter half of the 19th century many mines in the area had been forced to close thanks to intense competition from mines elsewhere in the world. According to Cornish Mining Heritage, as many as half a million miners left Cornwall between 1815 and 1915, often setting up their own mines in other countries such as Australia, South Africa and the the U.S.
The industry continued in Cornwall – albeit at a much lower capacity – until the late 1990s. South Crofty mine – the last working tin mine in Europe – remained open until 1998. Plans have been suggested to re-open the mine in light of increased global tin prices, but have yet to materialise.
But there is now a fresh hope that the Lithium industry could revive the mining industry in the region.