British Lithium Ltd secures backing from Innovate UK to help develop hard rock lithium extraction in the St Austell area of Cornwall
Cornwall's journey towards becoming a significant producer of lithium, a critical component in electric car batteries, took another step forward this week, with the news that the firm behind a project to extract trock has won £500,000 of government funding.
Roche-based British Lithium Limited (BLL) on Monday announced it had secured the support from Innovate UK, the government's innovation agency, to progress its research and development of hard rock lithium extraction in the St Austell area of Cornwall. The project would make BLL the first company in the UK to explore for hard rock lithium.
"We have undertaken many years of metallurgical research to develop a unique process for extracting lithium from micaceous granite - something never done commercially before," said BLL's chairman Roderick Smith. "We have our own laboratory in Roche and our aim is to build a quarry and refinery in Cornwall that will produce 20,000 tonnes per year of lithium carbonate."
BLL carried out its first drilling programme in April 2019, with the next stage of trenching taking place five months later, followed by an intensive 24-hour drilling programme in December. An on-site team of six is now preparing for a third phase of exploration, the firm said.
BLL's project is the second Cornish lithium project to receive government funding this month, following backing via the Getting Building Fund for the development of a £4m co-production plant combining lithium extraction from geothermal waters with geothermal energy production.
The funding signals recognition among policymakers and strategists of the importance of fostering a manufacturing industry for electric vehicle (EV) batteries in the UK. Cars currently represent the UK's largest export by value, but there are fears that the country's manufacturing industry risks falling behind the rest of Europe, as the continent works to break the EU-Asia stranglehold on the lithium-ion car battery market.
The EU has prioritised developing its industry as part of its net-zero transition strategy, and the European Commission recently approved almost £2.7bn in funding for the electric vehicle battery supply chain, with Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Italy and Sweden all participating in the programme.
"The amount of lithium we are planning to produce annually will be a major step forward in attracting more battery manufacturers and maintaining our car industry," added BLL managing director Andrew Smith. "If batteries aren't being made in the UK, car makers are likely to continue investing in EV production in Europe because that's where the gigafactories are. Yet Europe isn't actually producing any battery-grade lithium so achieving that in Cornwall would give the UK as a whole huge competitive advantage."
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