Tuesday, 21 Mar 2023

The part of Cornwall nobody ever sees: the hi-tech future for lithium and tin mining

The part of Cornwall nobody ever sees: the hi-tech future for lithium and tin mining


The part of Cornwall nobody ever sees: the hi-tech future for lithium and tin mining

A foggy, overgrown quarry in a quiet part of Cornwall is a good place to contemplate Britain's industrial past. It is here that miners used steam power, explosives and their own hands to dig out china clay for ceramics. The industry helped to fuel the Industrial Revolution and briefly made Redruth one of the richest places in the UK.

The quarry is also a pretty good place to contemplate Britain's industrial future. Cornish Lithium, a UK startup, is one of a clutch of businesses hoping to revive British mining amid a global scramble for the battery minerals that are crucial for the transition away from fossil fuels.

The shift to electric cars is upending the automotive industry. It has also set off a scramble for the minerals that will be used in every vehicle. This article, the second in Electric Dreams, a series exploring the UK's efforts to save its car industry by building an automotive battery industry, will examine how mining companies are hoping to provide the first stage of the supply chain: the minerals that will be crucial to every car battery.

There are already battery factories under way in the UK, with Chinese company Envision in Sunderland and under-pressure startup Britishvolt in Northumberland both starting building work. The batteries and electric cars they make will need steady supplies of high-grade minerals: cobalt, nickel, manganese, tin, but above all lithium.

"This is the part of Cornwall that nobody ever sees," said Neil Elliot, Cornish Lithium's corporate development manager, at the steep-sided Trelavour quarry, a few miles from Redruth.

The company hopes the business will start producing usable lithium by 2026, eventually moving millions of tonnes of rock and digging down 120 metres. The quarry, which has just won financial support from the UK government, would create about 300 jobs and provide an alternative to seasonal tourism work.

The lithium ion battery was only invented in the 1980s, and demand for the metal was previously limited mainly to ceramics, grease and antidepressants - although a small amount was also mined at Trelavour to control carbon dioxide levels in the UK's nuclear submarines. The huge expansion of the battery industry has changed that.

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