The Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership (CIOSLEP) has announced that the UK Government plans to invest through its Getting Building Fund in the construction of Europe’s first geothermal lithium recovery pilot plant at a location near to Redruth, Cornwall. The project will extract lithium for use in electric vehicle and power storage batteries. This investment supports a £4m collaboration between Geothermal Engineering Ltd (GEL) and Cornish Lithium Limited, Penryn, Cornwall, United Kingdom, at GEL’s deep geothermal project at United Downs, which aims to demonstrate that lithium can be produced from geothermal waters with a net zero carbon footprint.
The lithium extraction pilot plant at United Downs will trial environmentally-responsible Direct Lithium Extraction (DLE) technology, and its suitability to extract lithium from Cornish geothermal waters. DLE technology has been developed by various companies for the extraction of lithium from geothermal waters in the United States, Europe, New Zealand and other locations globally. The optimal DLE technology for Cornish waters is currently being selected, however the processes being considered utilize technologies, such as nanofiltration, to selectively remove lithium compounds from the water, rather than relying on evaporation and other less environmentally friendly methods. Once the lithium has been extracted, the waters will be returned to depth via injection boreholes.
The granite rocks beneath Cornwall are rich in lithium and heat, and recent tests run by Cornish Lithium and Geothermal Engineering Ltd have demonstrated that both the geothermal and the lithium resources are potentially commercially viable given recent advances in extraction technologies.
Jeremy Wrathall, Founder and CEO of Cornish Lithium said “Cornish Lithium is delighted to be involved in this project alongside GEL given the potential to establish a new industry for Cornwall. This funding will significantly accelerate our work to demonstrate that lithium can be produced in a sustainable, zero-carbon manner and will enable us to fast-track similar projects in other locations across Cornwall once the plant has been completed. We believe that Cornwall has the potential to become the “battery metals hub” for the UK, thus continuing a 4,000-year history of metal production and industrial innovation.”
Dr Ryan Law, Managing Director of Geothermal Engineering Ltd, said: “We have made significant strides in establishing the UK’s first deep geothermal power plant in the UK. The possibility of developing future sites that include co-production of lithium extraction is very exciting and a great opportunity for both companies and Cornwall as a whole. We believe Cornwall’s untapped natural resources are significant, and are delighted to be partnering with Cornish Lithium to maximise the synergies between the two technologies in order to unlock this potential.”
At the March 2020 launch of the UK All Party Parliamentary Group on Critical Minerals, Trade & Industry Minister, Nadhim Zahawi, said: “Industry must have confidence that it can access the necessary raw materials to move towards sustainable low-carbon markets… On its own, domestic supply will never provide full security but the potential to become self-sufficient in lithium which Cornish mining represents will, I think, be incredibly important to the British economy.”
About Cornish Lithium
Cornish Lithium is exploring the potential for producing zero carbon lithium from geothermal waters across Cornwall, for use in electric vehicles (EVs) and grid battery storage of renewable energy. Initial results from its recent exploration drilling have been encouraging. Cornish Lithium believes that the lithium contained within these ‘hot springs’ has the potential to supply a significant amount of the UK’s requirement for this critical metal over the next few decades.
About Geothermal Engineering Ltd
Geothermal Engineering has successfully drilled the deepest well ever on UK soil, at circa 5.2 kilometres vertical depth. This well has encountered the hottest temperatures recorded in onshore deep drilling in the UK (188 degrees Celsius) which is more than enough to produce energy for 24/7 renewable power generation at the surface.
Following on from the success of the companies’ independent projects to date, the co-production of lithium with geothermal heat and power from the same geothermal waters is an exciting opportunity for Cornwall.