22 Jul There’s lithium in them thar hills, Poldark: Cornwall set for mining bonanza
Satellites suggest large deposits of the metal used to power mobiles and electric cars
Poldark is fictional, but it is his era’s records that show the potential for lithium mining
Cornwall could regain its place at the heart of Britain’s mining industry after a satellite survey found its rocks harbour large reserves of lithium, the rare and valuable metal that has become vital to the electric car industry.
It showed the area where the BBC’s popular drama Poldark is filmed may still retain its most valuable mineral, reserves of which are potentially worth hundreds of millions of pounds.
“The satellite images suggest high concentrations of lithium,” said Cristian Rossi, Earth observation specialist at the Satellite Applications Catapult, an innovations and technology firm that aims to promote economic growth by utilising space. “It now needs to be investigated on the ground to confirm the findings and look for the highest concentrations.”
The deposits are so extensive they may even reach under Duchy of Cornwall land owned by the Prince of Wales, a long terns enthusiast of green energy. Lithium’s lightness, conductivity and other electrical properties mean it has become essential in the batteries that power mobile phones, laptops and electric cars. The batteries in a single Tesla vehicle needs about 63kg of the metal.
Lithium’s value has surged foam about £1,900 a tonne In 2002 to £12200 today and has the potential to keep rising.
“The world produces about 220,000 tonnes of lithium carbonate a year,” said Jeremy Wrathall, chief executive of Cornish Lithium, which hopes to exploit the county’s reserves. “Demand is going to rise fivefold to more than lm tonnes by 2025. We hope Cornwall could be at the centre of that industry.” Such a revival for Cornwall’s mining industry would be historic in every sense. The county had been exploited for metals since the Bronze Age, including tin, lead and gold. That ended in l998 with the closure of South Crofty, the last active tin mine, although the area around St Austell is still quarried for china clay.
That history has been popularised in the BBC’s dramatisation of Poldark. starring Aldan Turner as Ross Poldark, a benevolent 18th century mine owner. Poldark may be fictional but it was through the records left by the real miners of that era that the potential for lithium mining became apparent. Many recorded how they had stumbled on hot underground springs whose water was laden with lithium rich salts. Similar springs discovered in Chile, Argentina and other parts of South America now produce the bulk of the world’s lithium.
With China controlling the majority of global supplies of the metal, Wrathall, who worked with the British Geological Survey and Exeter University’s Camborne School of Mines to analyse the satellite images, said Cornwall’s reserves could be strategically important.
For the county, however the promise of a revived mining industry may be perceived as conflicting with its greatest modem money spinner: tourism. Some of lithium-rich areas lie close to renowned resorts such as Porthtown.
Lithium brines – salt-rich waters – also have to be pumped up from about half mile underground, requiring a facility similar in appearance to fracking right.
“We could create up to 300 jobs but we also have to convince people we can be good neighbours,” said Wrathall.