Cornwall

Lithium mining possibility for Cornwall

Battery Image copyright Reuters

A mining firm is hoping to find lithium - a key component of electric car batteries - in rocks under Cornwall.

The rare metal is found in natural hot underground springs but has not been exploited before in the county.

High levels were indentified in the water in Cornish mines in the 19th Century, but there was no market for it at that time.

The development of lithium ion batteries for mobile phones and cars has made it more valuable.

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Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Cornish Lithium has an agreement with the firm behind the South Crofty mine for exploration

Cornish Lithium Limited believes it could be the first firm in the UK to mine for the element and hopes to secure £5m of investment for exploration work around Camborne, Redruth and St Day.

'Vital' metal

The metal would be extracted by drilling at least 400m (1,312ft) into rock and pumping out lithium-laden water, which would then be processed.

The firm's chief executive, Jeremy Wrathall, said mining lithium was completely different to fracking and would have low environmental impact.

Professor Frances Wall from the Camborne School of Mines said the project had the potential to give the UK its own supply of a "vital" metal for which demand was increasing.

According to the US Geological Survey, the world's leading producers of lithium are Australia, Chile and Argentina, while in Europe, the biggest producer is Portugal.

Analysis: Neil Gallacher, Business Correspondent, BBC South West

With electric cars driving a whole new market for lithium - and fast - this is an eye-catching scheme.

But most of the local mining proposals announced in the last 15 years haven't come to fruition. Or not yet anyway!

And the lithium scheme has a double layer of uncertainty: not only do they need to persuade investors they can find enough lithium, they also have to persuade them there's a cost effective way of extracting it from the water.

Henk Van Alphen, head of Wealth Minerals in Canada, said demand for the metal could triple in the next ten years, driven by the demand for batteries.

Cornish Lithium has agreements with Strongbow Exploration - which is behind the South Crofty mine in Cornwall - Mineral Exploration Limited and Tregothnan Estates for exploration and mining.

It also has rights to geothermal energy in the hot springs which could generate power and help reduce processing costs.

Plans for lithium extraction have not yet been submitted to Cornwall County Council.

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