In the corner of a nondescript industrial area just outside Cornwall, a small faucet juts out of the rubble.
A technician, wearing a visor to protect himself not from Covid but from heat, gently turns the faucet and a clear liquid quietly flows out and into a plastic bottle.
Yeah yeah But it’s not water, or not exactly. In fact, it is brine, and what it contains represents the potential transformation of not just the Cornish economy, but the whole of the UK economy.
Boris Johnson at a press conference on the final day of the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, Cornwall
For it is here, in this industrial area, that the practical end of a British company’s efforts to create a domestic lithium production industry is beginning to bear fruit.
Cornish Lithium was the brainchild of mining veteran Jeremy Wrathall, who a few years ago discovered centuries-old reports of hot liquids appearing in some of Cornwall’s ancient tin and copper mines.
It took a man with a trained mining eye and a keen awareness of the latest commodity market dynamics to sum up two and two.
Once upon a time, the hot brines that gushed into Cornwall’s underground mines were a very unwelcome distraction. Now, however, they could be the key to unlocking an emerging multi-million or billion-dollar industry.
Lithium is in great demand for use in electric vehicles and the next generation of energy storage batteries, and the UK has been a key manufacturing base for the European auto market over the past few decades.
But Brexit complicated matters in this regard as new treaties stipulate that a certain amount of raw materials for industrial goods must be sourced locally. Where does the UK get the raw materials that allow its auto production to continue to thrive?
The small faucet in the industrial park offers one possible answer.
How much lithium can be extracted from the brines in Cornwall is an open question. However, based on what we have learned so far, it is unlikely to be small, and in fact, it is entirely possible that a decade-long supply could be available.
Cornish Lithium has put together a sizeable land package and is confident that when appropriate testing is completed and the time comes for commercial production to begin, it will be able to produce the lion’s share of lithium in brines that Cornwall will end up with produced.
There are also hard rock mines in the background, but right now the brines are the focus because the footprint is so small and the advantage is so big.
Lithium is in great demand for use in electric vehicles and the next generation of energy storage batteries
The current work focuses on how the lithium can best be obtained from the brines. On one side of the small faucet is a small container full of high-tech machines from a French company.
On the other side of the courtyard, behind the cuboid containers used for sending bulk samples, there is another possible processing method in a shed that uses special pearls.
Owned by a Canadian company contributed by Cornish Lithium, this has the advantage of being a closed loop processing – almost all of the waste generated is reused.
A processing decision is imminent and a pilot plant is expected to be ready by the end of March next year.
Cornish Lithium has compiled the largest single database of mining rights and property in the West Country
In the meantime, Cornish Lithium is very busy. For starters, it is hosting several high profile visits this week as the arrival of the G7 on the streets has clearly put the spotlight on local renewable energy opportunities.
Thereafter, the focus will shift to the start of pilot production and a planned listing on the Aim market of the London Stock Exchange.
There is also the question of Cornwall’s mineral rights in general. Through the work initiated by Jeremy Wrathall and now carried on by his skilled staff, the company has built the largest single database of mining rights and properties in the West Country. This puts Cornish Lithium in a strong position as a regional player.
It played a key role in the recent copper discovery by Cornish Metals Ltd, a London listed company (16.4p) that also has tin projects in the area.
And across the street from the industrial area with the faucet bubbling with lithium brine, the thin cylinders and supports of a drilling rig tower above a field, silhouettes above the rows of hedges.
Here Cornish Metals intends to pursue this copper interval in what was formerly known as “the richest square mile on earth” due to its vast mineralized makeup.
Will part of Cornwall ever deserve such a title again? It’s an ambitious idea, but several mining companies are trying to make it a reality and Cornish Lithium is at the forefront.
Some of the links in this article may be affiliate links. If you click on it, we may receive a small commission. This helps us fund This Is Money and use it for free. We do not write articles to promote products. We do not allow commercial relationships to compromise our editorial independence.