LONDON: As the global auto industry ramps up production of electric cars, a UK company hopes to capitalize on mining the lithium needed to make rechargeable batteries that power vehicles. It has been five years since former investment banker Jeremy Wrathall started Cornish Lithium, a company operating in Cornwall, in the south-west of England, which recently hosted the G7 summit.
And while it may be another four years before it begins commercial production of the metal, Wrathall is optimistic that its punt will pay dividends.
“In 2016, I started to think about the electric vehicle revolution and what it would mean for the demand for metals and I started to think about lithium,” he told AFP in a report. interview.
“A friend of mine mentioned lithium was identified in Cornwall and I just wondered if that was some sort of unrecognized thing in the UK.”
In fact, lithium was discovered in Cornwall in 1864, when the area is known for its historic copper and tin mining, which dates back 4,000 years and ended around the turn of the century.
“Of course I would love to restart mining in Cornwall, but this is a commercial project,” Wrathall insisted.
“It’s not a mission that pushes me to the point of being emotional or romantic.”
Cornish Lithium is at a stage of testing to see if the metal can be produced commercially.
“The first results are encouraging. I’m excited about this, ”said Wrathall, whose company has relaunched a former mine located far from the area’s picturesque villages and beaches.
The mining company is looking to extract enough lithium from hot underground water to meet at least a “significant proportion” of UK demand, while being environmentally friendly.
It is thinking about capturing heat from the underground to generate clean energy, or geothermal energy, which can be used to extract lithium.
Wrathall explained that Cornwall has very clean water.
“It contains a lot of lithium and very little of anything else,” he explained.
“When you’re looking for needles in a haystack, you want as little hay as possible and more needles and that’s what we have. “
The project has been far from easy, from securing drilling rights to landowners to researching the technology to bring lithium-containing water to the surface.
And the company faces competition from British Lithium, which seeks to extract the metal from Cornwall granite.
UK lithium demand is expected to reach 75,000 tonnes by 2035, five years before the UK ban on the sale of highly polluting diesel and petrol vehicles.
Lithium is mined primarily in Australia and South America, while China controls the supply chain.
And while automakers emphasize the environmental benefits of electric vehicles, most of today’s lithium extraction relies on energy from polluting fossil fuels.
In Europe, projects are underway for cleaner metal extraction in France and Germany.
“It is extremely important that we get this technology, otherwise Europe will not have a supply of lithium,” Wrathall insisted.
It comes as auto giants Nissan and Renault recently announced plans for huge factories in England and France to make electric batteries.
The European Commission wants to end the sale of new gasoline and diesel cars by 2035, as part of a massive plan to fight climate change unveiled last week.
“From a strategic point of view, Europe should seek to secure its own lithium supply,” said Alex Keynes of the Brussels pressure group Transport & Environment.
“Our view is that in the medium and long term, the majority of materials, including lithium, should come from efficient and clean recycling,” he told AFP.