Rocks under Britain’s west country have yielded up the first ore for a pioneering venture to home-source battery grade lithium. British Lithium Limited believes its achievement is a world’s first.
From its plant at Roche, near St Austell, the integrated miner-processor intends stepping output up from a trial 5 kilogrammes per day at present, to 21,000 tonnes each year. That target could be reached in five years, the firm believes.
The miner’s efforts are believed to be the first successful extraction of lithium carbonate in potentially commercial quantities from mica in granite.
Funded by Innovate UK, the Roche plant took seven months to build. Its design drew on four years of research.
All production stages are integrated on site. From quarrying, crushing and grinding the ore, these range to custom-built electric calcination at low temperatures, acid-free leaching and multiple purification steps, including ion-exchange.
All UK car manufacturing will convert to electric vehicles by 2030. Lithium carbonate is a key component in the batteries required to power them.
“New processes are normally piloted during the definitive feasibility stage”, said British Lithium’s chief executive Andrew Smith.
“But, as lithium has never been produced commercially from mica before, de-risking our proprietary technology is an important step in developing our project”.
“Doing it now allows us to operate in real world conditions using actual site water and locally sourced commercial reagents.
“We’re delighted with the rapid progress we’ve made”, Smith went on, “but there’s still a long road ahead in terms of refining and optimising the process”.
British Lithium chair Roderick Smith added: “At the moment, we will be the only lithium producer in the world to be quarrying and refining on one site, which adds to the sustainability of the project.”
Chile tops the world’s lithium reserves with 9.2 million tonnes, ahead of Australia on 4.7 million tonnes. Tesla plans to source lithium from the desert 150 miles from its gigafactory in Nevada.