Friday, 16 July 2021

July Cornish Mining sundowner: with more news on lithium

Falmouth's Gyllyngvase beach once more provided the venue for the Cornish Mining Sundowner, and on a warm sunny evening is there anywhere better?

It was good to see a number of new faces among the regulars, including Mark Alcock and his wife Linda, who are down here on holiday from Guildford, about 250 miles away. Mark graduated from Camborne School of Mines in 1978 and is now a consultant to HS2, the high speed rail link currently under construction between London and the Midlands and North. It is a highly controversial project, which led to an interesting discussion!

With Mark and Linda Alcock

It is really good to see so many young women graduating in mining these days, and attending her first sundowner was Hannah Matheson, who has just graduated from CSM, and, travel permitting, will soon be taking up her first job as a mining engineer in Perth, Western Australia. Hannah is pictured below with two King Edward Mine Museum stalwarts, Nigel MacDonald and Carol Richards.

In the photo below, the tall man 4th from the left is Hannah's dad, Bruce, who is working on a PhD in mine ethics at CSM.

Geologist Evan Marquis was also attending her first sundowner, having just taken up a post-doctoral research position at CSM's Environment & Sustainability Institute with sundowner regulars Frances Wall and Karen Hudson-Edwards.  In the photo below Eva (left) is with Jane Coll, a geologist at CSA Global.

There was much to talk about last night. The worrying rise in Coronavirus infections in Cornwall after the G7 summit was a topic of conversation, as was the surge in mining developments taking place down in this remote corner of Great Britain.

The rapid growth of renewable energy and electric vehicles means the demand for the minerals they rely on is set to soar. By 2030, the world could need half as much tin again, and for lithium the increase is a massive 500% by 2050 according to the World Bank

The Importance of Mining to Society was the subject of a one hour event hosted by the Critical Minerals Association held in Falmouth in June on the first day of G7

The message was that we need to change our relationship with society to show the value that we can add to a greener society, and the importance of the meeting was that it was attended or relayed to the international journalists present in Falmouth for G7, so it was hoped that they were listening and that the message would get out that mining is essential. 

Lucy Crane speaking to the BBC
One of the speakers was sundowner regular Dr. Lucy Crane, Senior Geologist with Cornish Lithium, and it does appear that the message was heeded as two weeks ago Lucy and Cornish Metals CEO Richard Williams, were featured on the BBC TV National News, explaining the developments in lithium and tin mining in Cornwall (see also the report on last month's sundowner). "If we're going to be producing these metals to go into low-carbon technologies, then it's so important that we extract them as responsibly as possible,” Lucy Crane told the BBC.

The UK is set to ban the sale of new diesel and petrol cars in 2030, and Nissan has set out plans for a £1bn electric vehicle hub in Sunderland which the Japanese firm says will create 6,000 new jobs at the firm and among its suppliers. With lithium essential for battery production, the BBC asked whether the answer to their supply lies in the rocks of Cornwall? 

KP and son Hendrik
In east Cornwall British Lithium continues to work to sustainably extract lithium from mica in the granite of the St. Austell china clay region, and Chief Metallurgist Klass (KP) van der Wielen told me that the company is seeking to find acid-free solutions to extracting and processing lithium. With the help of £3m of Innovate UK funding the company is building a pilot plant where the lithium will be recovered and processed using recyclable salt as a reagent, rather than toxic chemicals. The pilot plant is in the early stages of construction and is scheduled to become operational in the last quarter of this year.

In west Cornwall Cornish Lithium is currently testing different technologies to extract the metal from the hot geothermal brines a kilometre below the earth, and after removing the lithium injecting the water back underground so the process can be repeated. The energy used to power this process will be from a renewable source, the natural heat from the deep rocks being converted into electricity, making the process carbon-neutral.

Cornish Lithium thinks it could eventually supply about a third of the UK's future lithium needs, the UK’s demand going to be about 75,000 tonnes of lithium carbonate from 2035, which is about a fifth of current total global supply.

Also more good news from Cornish Metals, who have discovered silver at its United Downs copper-tin project. Highlights from one hole drilled to a depth of 260.24m intersected two zones of high-grade mineralisation including a 2.61m wide mineralised intersection averaging 5.2% copper, 1.3% tin and 77g/t silver.

And on 1st July, Geothermal Engineering made history by being the first developer to successfully bring the naturally hot geothermal fluid to the surface and re inject it underground, proving that the novel concept at United Downs works and a power plant can now be installed.

Hopefully there will be more news of developments at the next sundowner, scheduled for Gylly beach again on Thursday 19th August.



  1. Thanks Barry, another interesting write-up. Sorry I've missed another sundowner, it would have been nice to see Mark Alcock! I'll catch up as soon as the covid situation allows, but it doesn't look good at the moment. Sam Wood (CSM 1983)

    1. Travelling to Cornwall not good anyway Sam. It's heaving down here and I would not like to be driving down the A30. It was good to talk to Mark- he's an interesting guy!

  2. Your posting is very refreshing--an array of friends and people with "earth sciences" backgrounds--augurs well. I am particularly pleased that more girls are taking up our profession.
    Yes, rare earth and all elements of any ore deposit have to be recovered; in fact, we may find new uses for some of them.
    Our Blog shows that "bonding" is in the Cornwall culture--I admire and wish all of you many more get-togethers like this one.
    Hope we soon get back to more happy days very soon.

  3. I very much enjoyed your blog with its account of the last sundowner and recent developments in Cornish mining.

    I was pleased to see so many women now obtaining posts within the mining industry. I remember taking one our first groups of MSc Mining Geology students across to Ireland for a mix of activity which included a visit to Silvermines. When we arrived I was told the girls would not be allowed to go underground. It would bring bad luck for the mine! Good to see the times they are a- changing. Its strange how you clearly remember some students when others disappear from memory. I can clearly remember Mark Alcock. I also noted Peter Ledingham is leading the Geotherrmal project but I would not have recognised him.

    Its amazing how Cornwall continues to provide resources after so many years of mining.

    Richard Edwards, Malvern, UK

    1. Thanks Richard. Yes, it is great to see many young women now graduating in mining. Do you remember the excitement at CSM in 1981 with the arrival of the first female student? Julie Holl was followed by many more, mainly mineral processing and geology, but now there is a large number of female mining engineers.

      Some students you tend to remember, those outside mineral processing I remember most due to sport- Pete Ledingham, for instance, was on the cricket team, but Mark Alcock I remember even though he was not a sportsman, and was on the mining degree. Obviously his personality, as he is a very interesting person to talk to.


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