Achievement marks major step forward in ongoing push to build a homegrown supply of lithium for burgeoning electric vehicle market
British Lithium has announced it has extracted lithium from granite mined from Cornwall’s bedrock, in an achievement it has hailed as both a world first and a major milestone in the development of a domestic supply of raw materials for the UK battery market.
The mining company yesterday announced it has produced commercial-grade lithium from mica minerals found in granite rock at its government-backed pilot plant near Roche.
British Lithium said it plans to build a full-scale plant at the site capable of producing 21,000 tonnes of battery-grade lithium carbonate once it has finished refining and optimising the lithium extraction process.
Over the coming months, it expects to produce five kilograms of lithium carbonate every day at the pilot plant, which has been built over a seven-month period and funded by government innovation agency Innovate UK.
British Lithium CEO Andrew Smith said manufacturing five kilograms a day of lithium at the plant was enough to demonstrate the commercial value of the project to potential customers.
“New processes are normally piloted during the definitive feasibility stage but, as lithium has never been produced commercially from mica before, de-risking our proprietary technology is an important step in developing our project,” he said. “Doing it now allows us to operate in real world conditions using actual site water and locally sourced commercial reagents.”
Smith confirmed work would begin on the full-scale plant once the process was fully developed. “We’re delighted with the rapid progress we’ve made, but there’s still a long road ahead in terms of refining and optimising the process,” he added.
Demand for lithium, a key component of electric vehicle (EV) batteries, is set to skyrocket as national phase out dates for petrol and diesel cars and vans draw closer. The majority of global lithium production takes place in Australia, Chile, and China and as such countries around the world, including the UK, are now looking to capitalise on domestic reserves of the mineral so as to help meet rising demand and reduce their reliance on foreign imports.
In the UK, there has been a rush of prospecting activity in Cornwall from companies and investors looking to take advantage of the county’s rich lithium reserves. British Lithium’s achievement comes just a month after rival firm, Cornish Lithium, announced it had clinched up to £18m of investment from technology metals investor TechMet to advance its prospecting, exploration, and extraction activities in the region.
For its part, British Lithium said the approach it is developing at Roche is unique because it incorporates all stages of lithium production, from quarrying and ore refining, through to extraction of the high purity lithium carbonate.
“At the moment, we will be the only lithium producer in the world to be quarrying and refining on one site, which adds to the sustainability of the project,” said Company chair Roderick Smith.