Geothermal project in England secures funding to help pilot lithium-extraction technology

A drilling rig at the United Downs deep geothermal power project in Cornwall.

Kevin Britland/Education Images | Universal Images Group | Getty Images

A £4 million ($5.23 million) project in southwest England has secured funding to help pilot the extraction of lithium for use in technologies such as electric vehicles and batteries.

In a statement earlier this week, Cornish Lithium said the new funding would be used to support the construction of “Europe’s first geothermal lithium recovery pilot plant.” The amount of investment has not been disclosed.

Over the years, lithium has become an increasingly important cog in modern life: lithium-ion batteries, for example, are used in everything from laptops and cellphones to electric cars.

According to the British Geological Survey’s Centre for Sustainable Mineral Development, MineralsUK, it can be extracted from two key types of deposits: minerals and brines. The methods used to extract lithium can range from the mining of hard rock deposits to, in the case of brines, pumping from wells.

Cornish Lithium’s work is centered around the extraction of lithium from geothermal brines. It said its project would be trialing Direct Lithium Extraction, or DLE, technology and “its suitability to extract lithium from Cornish geothermal waters.”

The company added that the “optimal DLE technology for Cornish waters” was still being selected, but said that “the processes being considered utilise technologies, such as nanofiltration, to selectively remove lithium compounds from the water, rather than relying on evaporation and other less environmentally friendly methods.”

The scheme is a collaboration with Geothermal Engineering, a company developing geothermal facilities in the county of Cornwall. It will be located at the United Downs Deep Geothermal Project near the town of Redruth.  

Described by the U.S. Department of Energy as a “vital, clean energy resource,” geothermal energy refers to underground heat which can be used to produce renewable energy. The DOE adds that geothermal energy “supplies renewable power around the clock and emits little or no greenhouse gases.”

The funding for the Cornish project comes from a larger £14.3 million pot of cash provided to the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership from the U.K. government’s Getting Building Fund, a £900 million initiative focused on job creation and the development of infrastructure and skills.  

Famed for its beautiful coastline and picturesque scenery, Cornwall was once home to a large number of mines extracting materials such as tin and copper. The county’s last mine shut in 1998.

Cornish Lithium is not the only company looking to extract lithium in Cornwall. Another firm, British Lithium, drilled six “exploration holes” in the area around St Austell last year.

The CEO of Cornish Lithium, Jeremy Wrathall, said the newly announced funding would “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 U.K., thus continuing a 4,000-year history of metal production and industrial innovation.”

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