How Cornish Lithium plans to produce lithium with a net-zero footprint

Electric car. (Image by JCT600, Flickr).

Following the announcement of the UK government’s plans to invest in Geothermal Engineering and Cornish Lithium’s deep geothermal project in Cornwall, Jeremy Wrathall, CEO of the junior mining company, provided details on their plans to establish an optimal method of lithium extraction at the site.

“We will be collaborating with Geothermal Engineering to take water from their deep geothermal well and trial it through the pilot plant,” Wrathall told MINING.COM. “The pilot plant aims to extract lithium using Direct Lithium Extraction (DLE) technology which essentially sieves the lithium out of the water – leaving behind the water as it was before – but without the lithium content. This is then reinjected into the ground via boreholes.”

To selectively remove lithium compounds from the water, the plan is to use technologies such as nanofiltration rather than relying on evaporation and other less environmentally friendly methods.

How Cornish Lithium plans to produce lithium with a net-zero footprint_1
Geothermal Engineering’s deep geothermal project in Cornwall. (Image courtesy of GEL).

According to Wrathall, this is the first plant of its kind in Europe and the goal is to demonstrate that lithium can be produced from geothermal waters with very minimal impacts in the surrounding ecosystems. 

“The lithium will have a net-zero footprint as the power for the extraction plant will be generated using zero-carbon geothermal energy. The power plant will be on the same site as the extraction plant,” the executive said.

In Wrathall’s view, the development of this £4-million project is key as the United Kingdom has great ambitions in the electric vehicle arena and hence a captive supply of the necessary raw materials is necessary.

“If there is a possible supply of lithium on your doorstep, it makes total sense to try and develop it,” Cornish Lithium’s CEO said. “This will also increase the likelihood of the UK being able to attract the battery mega factories that will be needed to maintain the country’s auto industry. The Cornish economy has been especially hard hit by covid-19 and desperately needs new industries that supply year-round, well-paid jobs.”

Drilling continues

As the pilot plant is being developed, Cornish Lithium also continues to drill in the ancient mining region of Cornwall, in south-west England, where its team expanded and consolidated the areas over which it has rights to explore for lithium and other minerals. 

A few weeks ago, the start-up raised £826,000 ($1.03 million) from shareholders, which it says it will use to expand ongoing work near Redruth in both geothermal waters and in hard rock.