Cornwall's First Lithium Mine Signals Boost for Auto Industry

Cornwall to mine Battery-Grade Lithium Carbonate, vital for EVs. Aiming to produce lithium for 500k electric vehicles annually by 2030


7/11/20233 min read

British Lithium and Imerys teamup
British Lithium and Imerys teamup

Cornwall's First Lithium Mine Signals Boost for UK Electric Car Industry

British Lithium Teams Up with French Mining Firm Imerys for Ambitious 20,000-Tonne Extraction Project

A groundbreaking development is set to take place in Cornwall, as the UK prepares to establish its very first lithium mine. This achievement comes as a result of a partnership between British Lithium, a homegrown startup, and Imerys, a French mining company. The joint venture aims to extract 20,000 tonnes of lithium ore, a crucial mineral used in electric car batteries, with the potential to meet a significant portion of the country's demand.

The project, announced on Thursday, is expected to generate employment opportunities for approximately 300 individuals. By the end of the decade, it aims to produce enough lithium to power around 500,000 electric vehicles per year. The ambitious venture would require an estimated investment of £575 million, according to a source closely involved with the project.

Lithium ions serve as a vital component in the current generation of batteries, utilized in a wide range of portable devices, ranging from mobile phones to electric toothbrushes. However, the increasing global shift towards electric vehicles necessitates a much larger supply of lithium. This agreement with Imerys, a company with a market value of €3 billion (£2.6 billion) and a mining legacy dating back to 1880, marks a significant milestone in establishing a viable lithium industry within the UK.

In contrast, another startup called Cornish Lithium faces uncertainty about its future. In their annual accounts, the company expressed concerns unless it secures £10 million in bridge funding by July to bridge the gap until their next fundraising round.

Imerys has had a significant presence in Cornwall for many years, primarily engaged in mining china clay for ceramics. However, previous mining efforts overlooked lithium, as its primary use was in treating mental illness before the invention of the lithium-ion battery in the 1980s.

The UK government is eager to stimulate the creation of an almost self-sufficient battery supply chain within the country, aiming to preserve jobs in the automotive industry. Currently, only one large-scale battery plant, owned by Chinese company Envision, is under construction in Sunderland, UK.

lithium mining site in Cornwall UK
lithium mining site in Cornwall UK
British Lithium UK
British Lithium UK

Kemi Badenoch, the business and trade secretary, expressed her enthusiasm for the deal, stating that it "will strengthen our domestic supply of critical minerals, which is vitally important as we seek to grow the UK’s advanced manufacturing industry and help create the jobs of the future." Cornwall's mines play a central role in the aspirations for domestic lithium production, and British Lithium has received funding from the government's Automotive Transformation Fund. The joint venture partners estimate that the mine could fulfill approximately two-thirds of the UK's projected battery demand by 2030 when all cars sold in the country must be capable of zero-emissions driving.

Imerys, which is also commencing a lithium mine in France, will hold an 80% stake in the joint venture, contributing its land and mineral holdings. British Lithium will retain the remaining 20%, reflecting their expertise in lithium processing and the operation of a pilot plant near St Austell. Imerys has stated that the UK lithium deposit amounts to 161 million tonnes, sufficient to sustain mining operations for the next three decades.

Professor Paul Shearing, an expert in sustainable energy engineering at the University of Oxford, emphasizes the significance of sourcing critical minerals for battery manufacturing. He asserts that this is essential for the growth of the electric vehicle industry, as well as the deployment of batteries in other applications such as grid-scale storage, in support of achieving net-zero emissions. He further highlights the opportunities presented by domestic lithium mining in the UK, including an increased supply of raw materials and improved geographical diversity of supply. Additionally, it offers a chance to establish best practices locally for lithium extraction, which could be beneficial for battery manufacturing in the UK and Europe.