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Department of International Trade identifies Cornwall as prospective mining area

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Global Mining Review,

As the world shifts towards a greener way of living, the identification and responsible mining of battery metals will become key to fuel the energy demands of the future. The need for base and high technology metals is expected to significantly increase in the near future. Reports show that the demand for lithium is expected to increase by 400% over the next 6 years and, following a 7 year high price strength in 2020, copper is projected to have a supply deficit of 327 000 t in 2022.

Cornwall’s natural environment is one of the most highly mineralised areas in the UK. There is an abundance of high-grade lithium, tin, copper, and tungsten ready to be extracted. This, along with world-class china clay operations and long-developed expertise in mining, quarrying, and mineral processing, makes Cornwall a prime location for the exploration and extraction of technology metals to meet the increasing global demand for decarbonisation. This is why the Department for International Trade has identified Cornwall’s mining sector as a High Potential Opportunity for investment.

Cornwall has the potential to supply ? of Britain's lithium needs – the equivalent of 1 million electric vehicles per year, which will greatly assist in the government’s planned phase out of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030.

Innovative mineral exploration and research and development company, Cornish Lithium, recently secured a share in £9.4 million in government investment as they work towards a full-scale extraction plant for this vital metal. Cornish Lithium’s Trelavour Hard Rock Lithium scoping study will assess the feasibility of developing a sustainable UK supply chain, through the construction of an extraction plant that will produce low-carbon lithium hydroxide from a hard rock source in St Austell. The government funding will support their plans to use an innovative direct lithium extraction (DLE) method, which is a significantly more environmentally responsible mode of removal compared to traditional evaporation tanks.

Not only are Cornish Lithium pioneering this new technique to extract lithium, they will be working in partnership with Geothermal Engineering Ltd (GEL) to extract heat from geothermal brines for local use at the United Downs site – where a full scale Deep Geothermal Power plant is planned to be in operation by 2022.

In further exploration of Cornwall’s lithium potential, in March 2021, British Lithium secured a £2.9 million Innovate UK grant to build a pilot lithium extraction plant, accelerating its route to commercialisation. British Lithium’s pilot plant will produce samples tailored to individual customer requirements. Once tested and proven, the company aims to begin full-scale production of 21 000 t of the most in-demand lithium compound (lithium carbonate) by 2026.

Alongside the exploration for the key battery metals, Canadian mineral exploration company, Cornish Metals, has been paving the way for the production of ‘clean tin’ – a vital metal used in all modern technology. The company has recently announced that drilling has commenced at its United Downs copper-tin project, which aims to follow-up on the discovery of high-grade copper-tin mineralisation in the area made in its initial exploration by Cornish Lithium. Cornish Metals are also moving closer towards reopening the South Crofty tin-copper mine in Cornwall. Recently signing land, mineral and waste disposal deals enabling them to move forward with its redevelopment plans.

The advancements that have taken place in the past 6 months in the region mean Cornwall is one of the UK’s most prospective areas, offering the potential to establish a sustainable, secure supply chain of some of the key metals needed for a cleaner future. With the mining sector already connected to circular economy approaches and with the history of innovation and learning to lead the way in practices globally, now is the time to take advantage of the next generation of industry happening in Cornwall.

Darryn Quayle, Mining Engineer and Specialist, Department for International Trade, said: “Cornwall not only has the natural resources to meet growing demands for high technology metals, the world-leading mining expertise in the region offer easy access to international networks. As the UK moves towards net zero, Cornwall will be at the heart of the extraction of high-technology metals, growing our economy and establishing a secure and responsible UK supply chain.”

Owen Mihalop, Chief Operating Officer of Cornish Metals, added: “The opportunity for tech metal mining in Cornwall is significant. At our South Crofty site we’re primarily focused on tin – the forgotten foot soldier of the high-tech world – it’s used in absolutely everything that we need for our modern lives, from mobile phones, robotics and computing to power generation and storage – a low carbon economy requires tin. South Crofty is a world class mine due to the high-grade nature of the ore – meaning we can mine less material, to produce the same amount of tin.”

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Lithium mining news