A UK mining firm, Cornish Lithium Limited hopes to secure a £5m investment for the exploration of Lithium Ion in Cornwall. The firm believes it could be the first Uk firm to mine for this important element. Cornish Lithium plans to mine the metal in Camborne, Redruth and St Day areas of Cornwall.
The rare metal was discovered in Cornish mines in the 19th century, but there was no demand for it at the time. Two centuries later, the situation is very different. There is a rising demand for lithium ion, fueled by the increasing demand for mobile phones and electric cars. This has made the Cornish mines much more valuable.
The rare metal is found in naturally occurring underground springs and has never been mined before in the UK. The metal would be extracted by drilling over 400m into rock and pumping out lithium-laden water, which would then be processed.
Demand for Lithium exploded two years ago when Tesla announced that it would be building a Gigafactory. Tesla’s Gigafactory is expected to be the largest lithium-ion battery factory in the world by 2018. According to the US Geological Survey, the leading producers of lithium in the world are Australia, Chile and Argentina, while Portugal tops the list in Europe.
It is expected that the demand for electric car batteries will triple the demand of the metal over the next decade. The expected increase in the value of lithium is likely to get countries like the UK interested in mining the metal.
While the firm is optimistic about the exploration, fees, permits and a public process will have to be obtained before the company can break ground. Cornish Lithium currently has exploration and mining agreements with Mineral Exploration Limited, Tregothnan Estates and Strongbow Exploration. However, the Cornwall County Council says they have not yet received any plans for lithium extraction in the area.
Curiously, most of the local mining proposals announced in the last 15 years have not yet come to fruition. It would seem that investors are not keen on putting their money in Lithium-ion exploration because of the dual uncertainty that comes with it. On the one hand, there is no guarantee that they will find enough lithium to make it worthwhile. On the other hand, they are not sure of a cost-effective method of extracting the metal from the water.
There have been some concerns about the environmental impact of lithium exploration from some environmental advocates, due to the similarities of the mining process with that of oil fracking. The firm’s chief executive, Jeremy Wrathall, has assured that mining is very different from fracking and would have a low environmental impact.