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The metal – a key component in electric car batteries – was found in underground hot springs just north of the town of Redruth. And tests on a 13-tonne bulk sample of hard rock being analysed by British Lithium’s metallurgical laboratory have revealed higher grades of the metal than previously anticipated.
The work we are doing promises to have a significant impact on the local and national economy
The company aims to extract lithium carbonate from the mica in granite and analysis of the sample represents the latest stage in progressing towards full-scale production within the next three to five years.
The sample was excavated by British Lithium geologists at a location near St Austell where the company has been drilling over the last two years.
British Lithium boss Andrew Smith said: “The results are indicating a higher grade of lithium than anticipated which is very exciting.
“No other company in the world is currently producing lithium from mica and, given the increasing demand for batteries as the UK moves towards more sustainable technology, the work we are doing promises to have a significant impact on the local and national economy.”
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The company was recently awarded an Innovate UK Smart Grant to help fund the analysis.
Chairman Roderick Smith said: “Our tests are suggesting a potential yield of 21,000 tonnes of battery-quality lithium carbonate a year, which represents about one-third of what the UK would need for its electric revolution by 2030.
“Our preference is to use the strategic advantage of a UK supply of lithium to attract a battery plant to Britain as a customer, however fast-growing demand from Europe could also be met from the UK.”
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British Lithium said test results were better than expected
British Lithium is excavating rock near St Austell
He continued: “The ultimate aim is to set up a lithium refinery that would supply lithium carbonate to the local automotive industry.
“The UK car industry is the biggest exporter this country has, employing some 800,000 people and making 1.3 million cars in 2018, 80 percent of which were exported.
“To meet the Government’s requirement, the whole of this industry needs to transform in just nine years.
“If output is to stay at the same level, considerable investments will have to be made and anything that gives the UK a competitive advantage will help.”
Exawatt, a UK-based strategic and research consultancy, predicts that fully electric vehicles powered solely by batteries – BEVs – will dominate UK vehicle sales by the end of the decade.
Exawatt CEO Simon Price said: “At the end of 2020, Boris Johnson announced that sales of new cars and vans powered wholly by petrol or diesel vehicles would be phased out by 2030 in the UK.
“We calculate that if the UK auto industry switches 90 percent of its passenger car production to BEVs in 2030, approximately 1.5 million BEVs per year will be produced.
“Based on an estimated average BEV battery capacity of 50kWh, this means the UK will require at least 60,000 tonnes of lithium carbonate equivalent to meet forecast demand.”
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He continued: “Based on its production targets, British Lithium would be capable of supplying one-third of this material to the UK auto industry in 2030.
“Following the UK’s exit from the EU, the urgency for British-made vehicle batteries is increasing.
“According to recent reports, manufacturers will be faced with export tariffs if their EV batteries contain more than 70 percent of material from outside of the UK or EU. This will tighten to 50 percent from 2024.”
British Lithium said its operations had the potential to turn Cornwall into the UK’s hub for battery materials and create hundreds of jobs with a string of production plants being built in the southwest region.