19 Jan Mining start-up hopes to drill for lithium in Cornwall
A mining start-up wants to create a lithium industry in Cornwall after snapping up the rights to drill for the mineral and extract it from hot underground brine.
Cornish Lithium has gained the rights to prospect for lithium from two other mining companies and a private estate, covering an area 15 miles wide. It is now seeking investors to raise an initial £5m for exploration to identify the best area for drilling.
Jeremy Wrathall, chief executive of Cornish Lithium and a mining analyst at Investec, believes the venture could bring welcome regeneration to the county, which has a long mining heritage.
“Lithium demand will exceed supply for the foreseeable future and I don’t think the industry can cope”
“It would be good not just for the local economy but for all of the UK,” Mr Wrathall said. “Lithium demand will exceed supply for the foreseeable future and I don’t think the industry can cope.”
Lithium is used in lithium-ion batteries for smartphones and electric cars. The latter market is expected to grow rapidly in the next few years, with Mr Wrathall describing 2016 as an “inflection point” as demand for electric vehicles rose 36pc worldwide.
The Cornish operation would be more akin to oil drilling than mining; wells will tap hot brine at a depth of between 400m and SOOm. before it is sent to a processing plant to extract the lithium.
Cornish Lithium has signed agreements with Strongbow Exploration, which is looking to reopen the South Crofty tin mine, as well as private company Mineral Exploration and Tregothnan Estates, to operate on their land near Truro.
The presence of lithium in hot spring brines in Cornwall was noted 200 years ago, long before the soft metal had a commercial use. In the last century, a number of mines were forced to close because of upwelling hot water.
Mr Wrathall said the project would have -a very low environmental footprint” and the potential to build several processing plants in the area. -In the long run, it may spawn other industries such as battery recycling. It will bring technical expertise to Cornwall,” he added.
George Eustice, MP for Camborne, Redruth and Hayle, said the development was -exciting news” with the potential to create new jobs. “If the team at Cornish Lithium is successful in developing this opportunity, the UK may not have to rely on imports of this vital mineral in future,” he said.
Professor Rip Jeffrey, head of the local Camborne School of Mines, said the project could inspire more young people to enter the mining industry. “In recent years too few of our young people have aspired to become mining engineers or geologists despite these being well paid and exciting careers. We can develop generations of young people with skills to export around the world.”