By Martin Clark
Cornwall’s mining industry may be on the verge of a renaissance, helping to power the new green economy.This thrusts one local company — Cornish Lithium Limited — right into the spotlight in an industry of huge strategic significance as the world clamours for more battery power to drive its electric car vision forward.
China is the world’s top lithium consumer and currently dominates the battery supply chain.But governments in the West are pledging more funds to domestic mines and industries in a bid to unlock more lithium supplies.It’s a potential turnaround for Cornwall’s ancient and once illustrious mining industry.Anyone who’s been on vacation in the south-west England county (that’s nearly everybody in the UK) may have spotted the relics from its abandoned tin mines, a visible reminder of its past.A little more than 20 years after the closure of the last South Crofty tin mine in Cornwall in 1998, the race is on to open up new mines, this time extracting battery-grade lithium carbonate.
All eyes on Cornish Lithium then.The company itself was founded by CEO Jeremy Wrathall in 2016, a graduate from Cornwall’s own Camborne School of Mines (adjacent to Camborne College, where this journalist gained his initial writing credentials too many years ago).With over 30 years experience in the mining finance sector,
Wrathall was recently named as a representative on the UK’s Critical Minerals Expert Committee, a key element of the UK government’s Net Zero Strategy. Not only does it recognise Wrathall’s own vast industry experience, but it also underscores the significance this future lithium producer has for the UK economy.
Indeed, Cornish Lithium has wasted no time since its formation five years ago in nurturing its portfolio, including the flagship Trelavour project, near St Dennis in the St Austell region.It is now starting to catch the eye of external investors, recently securing up to £18 million from TechMet, a leading technology metals investment group.
It marks the first investment that Cornish Lithium has secured from a financial institution.The TechMet funding also builds on proceeds from a recent successful crowdfunding campaign.The extra cash will enable the company to accelerate its projects, including the construction of a beneficiation and hydrometallurgical demo plant that will enable it to optimise the low carbon Lepidico processing technology to which Cornish Lithium secured a 15-year royalty free licence in 2020.It will also advance progress towards feasibility studies for the Trelavour project, ahead of construction plans, financing, and an eventual move towards commercial production
The new funding will also facilitate the drilling of additional geothermal boreholes to further demonstrate Cornwall’s prospectivity for lithium in geothermal waters.There are also studies into the possibility of using heat from these boreholes to decarbonise local industries in Cornwall.
Announcing the TechMet deal on 25 November, 2021, Wrathall said his company had reached a point in its development where larger scale investment is now required.“This funding underpins the company’s ambitions in Cornwall as we seek to progress our projects towards construction and commercial production.”He also highlighted the business opportunity his company and fellow investors are now facing.
As the world transitions towards electric vehicles a material lithium supply gap is looming, especially in the UK given the requirement for an estimated 75,000 tonnes of lithium carbonate equivalent by 2035, according to The Faraday Institution.“Cornish Lithium intends to position itself as a key player in the necessary supply chains to bridge that gap,” he noted .Of course, it is not the only player eyeing this potentially vast market opportunity; other names include the likes of British Lithium, also active in Cornwall.
What’s clear is that all of these companies appear to be in the right place at the right time — the demand is there, and growing, and miners will need to get these materials to market faster than ever before. At a Cornish mining conference in October the question was posed: is a domestic lithium supply chain a unicorn or a real opportunity?The short answer is that we are about to find out very soon — and Cornish Lithium is right at the vanguard.