Friday, 21 August 2020

Lithium, tin, copper and geothermal energy: the new boom in Cornish mining

Last month's Cornish Mining Sundowner on Falmouth's Gyllyngvase Beach drew a record attendance of around 40, but the Cornish weather is capricious and very strong winds last night kept many indoors. Around a dozen regulars did make it to the wind-swept beach, however, in front of very heavy seas, in marked contrast to the "doldrums" of a few days ago:

Falmouth Bay earlier in the week
Regulars Pauline & Nick Clarke, Dean Eastbury, Steve Barber, Mary & Pete Shepherd and Carol Richards
First sundowner for my grandson Jack Collins, with me and Dean Eastbury

There was much to talk about last night as there has been encouraging mining news over the past few weeks. Cornish Metals Inc. has announced that its name change from Strongbow Exploration has come into effect. Richard Williams, CEO, stated “The renaming to Cornish Metals is a reflection of our dedication to revitalizing an industry which means so much to the people of Cornwall. The objective is to bring tin and copper mining back to Cornwall, to create well-paid, highly skilled jobs hand in hand with the community, with an emphasis on hiring locally wherever possible. Our guiding principle is to ensure we attain the highest standards for health, safety, and the environment, and to continue collaborating with all stakeholders. We are currently drilling at the South Crofty tin project, and thereafter will be expanding the drill programme to United Downs to follow up on the recent high grade copper – tin discovery.”

And also good news from the United Downs Deep Geothermal Project, where results of drilling show that the temperature on the geothermal production well is 188 deg C, hot enough for continuous power generation. This is also great news for the development of Europe’s first geothermal lithium recovery pilot plant to extract lithium for use in batteries. This project is a £4m collaboration between Geothermal Engineering Ltd (GEL) and Cornish Lithium at GEL’s deep geothermal project to demonstrate that lithium can be produced from geothermal brines with a zero carbon footprint.

Water from the deep geothermal well will be fed to the pilot plant, which aims to extract lithium using Direct Lithium Extraction technology, which essentially sieves the lithium out of the water, which is then re-injected into the ground via boreholes. To selectively remove lithium compounds from the water, the plan is to use technologies such as nanofiltration rather than relying on evaporation and other less environmentally friendly methods. In contrast to traditional mining methods, direct lithium extraction is a closed-loop, environmentally friendly process that returns brine, post-extraction, to its original source utilizing 100 percent renewable power and steam for processing.

The UK has great ambitions in the electric vehicle arena and hence a captive supply of the necessary raw materials, such as lithium, is necessary. The Cornish economy has been especially hard hit by Covid-19 and desperately needs new industries that supply year-round, well-paid jobs. The project will be greatly aided by the support, announced this month, of a £14.3m investment from the Government’s Getting Building Fund to stimulate post-Covid-19 recovery over the next 18 months by supporting £59m worth of projects and 1,100 jobs in Cornwall, including development of the lithium plant.

And geothermal brines are not the only source of lithium in Cornwall. British Lithium Ltd is the first company in the UK to explore for hard rock lithium and the only one so far to have established a resource, in the St Austell area, well known for its china clay deposits. It now aims to build a quarry and refinery in Cornwall that will produce 20,000 tonnes per year of lithium carbonate, and has been awarded £500,000 of government funding to progress research and development of lithium extraction from granitic lithium micas.

Hopefully there will be more news of these developments over the coming weeks, and lots to talk about again at the next Sundowner which, weather permitting, will be on Gylly Beach again on Thursday 17th September from 5.30pm.


1 comment:

  1. Barry,
    So much positive news on all fronts--new life and new thoughts on mineral industry augurs well; good news on plans to attract young talent--need of the future are so well thought off-- with due regard to environment; for me it is THE real holistic approach--hope all will keep this in mind as we take new initiatives. Compliments to all involved.


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