UK mining venture targets enough lithium to power 500,000 electric cars annually

A joint UK mining venture could produce enough Lithium carbonate, a crucial component in electric car batteries, to power 500,000 vehicles by the end of the decade, it has been claimed.

Two companies, Imerys and British Lithium, plan to combine their expertise to extract the product from a granite mine in Cornwall with financial support from the government.

“This venture will reduce the UK’s and Europe’s dependence on critical raw materials imports, thus contributing to the achievement of the European and British climate change targets and the creation of the first fully integrated regional electrical vehicle value chain,” the firms said.

The statement said that expected production rates, slated to begin in late 2028, would meet roughly two-thirds of Britain’s estimated battery demand by 2030.

That is when when all new cars sold in the UK must be fully electric under government plans to combat climate change.

The boost to domestic mining, while welcomed by the government, does not mean the country will be self-sufficient when it comes to battery production.

The collapse, in January, of the Britishvolt start-up – since bought by an Australian firm – only intensified worries that the UK was falling further behind in meeting minimum needs ahead of the 2030 ban.

High costs and a lack of charging infrastructure also remain widespread complaints.

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How lithium batteries are made

The prospect of more domestically-sourced lithium is a step in the right direction though it will not solve a more immediate problem..

The car industry has warned that Brexit trade rules governing rules of origin, due to kick in next year, risk adding costs to consumers across Europe unless they are delayed.

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The rule states that 45% of the value of an electric vehicle should originate in the EU or UK to qualify for trade without a 10% tariff being applied.

Batteries are the main worry so far as tariff avoidance is concerned.

France-based Imerys expected that the deal would make it Europe’s top producer of Lithium.

The price of lithium has jumped from $9,600 a tonne in January 2021 to more than $50,000 in January 2022
The venture will combine both companies’ expertise in extraction and development File pic

The project was expected to cost “hundreds of millions” in investment, the company’s chief executive Alessandro Dazza told reporters, adding it was too early to give precise figures.

The project, while smaller than its existing plan to mine lithium in central France, had the advantage of being an open pit mine with a nearby processing facility.

British Lithium's pilot plant for lithium extraction
British Lithium’s pilot plant for lithium extraction in Cornwall

Imerys took an 80% stake in British Lithium to establish the partnership.

Business and Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch said: “This joint venture between Imerys and British Lithium will strengthen our domestic supply of critical minerals, which is vitally important as we seek to grow the UK’s advanced manufacturing industry and help create the jobs of the future.

“This partnership shows again that the UK remains an attractive destination for international investment and will boost economic prosperity, support green industries, and bolster our energy security – not only in Cornwall, but right across the UK.”

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