In the 1790’s on the Swedish isle of Utö, a Brazilian statesman named José Bonifácio de Andrada discovered the first Petalite, a material which contained lithium. He was also the first to discover another important lithium containing mineral called spodumene from the same source.
In 1817, Johan August Arfvedson analysed the petalite further and realised it contained a previously unknown metal, which he named lithium. However it wasn’t until 1855 when Augustus Matthiessen, a British chemist, was able to isolate it, the lightest known metal.
Fast forward to the present day and we find ourselves surrounded by devices powered using small, lightweight and efficient lithium rechargable batteries. These include laptops and mobile phones, but increasingly electric vehicles and many other digital and electronic devices.
Lithium batteries also have a large role to play in renewable energy sources as wind and solar energy storage, related industries which incidentally already have firm roots within the Cornish landscape.
Looking forward, battery “mega factories” are already being built around the world. Tesla is building a 35GWh facility in Nevada in order to create enough batteries to power their own range of electric vehicles. Production is slated to begin in 2017 and is expected to reach peak capacity by 2020, at which point this single factory will produce more lithium batteries than were produced globally during 2013.
It’s not just Tesla either. Other giants like Foxconn, LG Chem and Boston Power are already generating high volumes of rechargeable Li-ion batteries with plans to increase capacity already underway.
Lithium’s lightness and reactivity make it highly attractive for battery applications. Demand for lithium is rising rapidly due to the trend towards environmentally friendly electric vehicles (EV’s) and batteries for the storage of renewable power.
Growth in demand for lithium batteries is expected to be extremely rapid and may lead to a shortage of supply for the foreseeable future.
Lithium is currently extracted from large brine lakes or “salars” in Chile and Argentina and from mines in Australia. These important sources are facing expansion challenges which makes new sources of supply ever more important and crucial to the growth of environmentally friendly technologies. In addition, the UK Government has highlighted lithium as a metal of importance within the technology sector.
Cornwall has a long history of mining and mineral extraction dating back thousands of years. The UK also represents a secure, low risk destination for investment with excellent infrastructure across grid power, road and rail.
Cornwall relies largely on tourism, so the opportunity to create a new and long-lasting industry in this region of the UK is one that is expected to receive significant attention, including from the UK government.
Cornwall is increasingly becoming a centre for renewable energy in the UK, hence any initiative that supplies a key material for the storage of such power will be well received.