Cornwall lithium capital of the world. The county in south-west England, has been famous for mining since before the Roman conquest, nearly two thousand years ago. The main reason the Romans invaded such a remote Island was to secure the supply of tin, which was an essential component of their swords and armour.
Mining of copper came next, and the county’s fortunes rose and fell as the success of its mining operations boomed and crashed. Even its most recent notoriety, the “Poldark” television series, pays tributes to the rise and fall of mining operations. However, the latest discovery promises to eclipse even the Roman invasion, and the Poldark series – the re-discovery of green lithium in high concentrations.
In 1864, a hot spring was found 450ft below the ground, in a copper mine, just outside Redruth. The spring water was tested, and found to contain eight to ten times the concentration of lithium of any other spring previously tested, anywhere. However, 19th century England had little use for lithium, no matter how high the concentrations. Today, it’s a completely different matter.
Smart phones, computers, electric car batteries, and many renewable energy projects, all require lithium. 2050 demand predictions are five-fold greater than present production can meet.
There is another problem. Current extraction technology has a high environmental impact, in terms of land usage, water usage, and carbon emissions. Most lithium comes from hard rock mining and processing it is costly, both environmentally and financially. The rocks are mined from open-pits, leaving huge scars in the landscape. They are then roasted using fossil fuels, and turned into a brine, which uses a large amount of water. Worse still, the process releases 15 tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere for every tonne of lithium produced.
The thought that lithium can be extracted from geothermal brine, where the hard work of mining, roasting, and making brine has already been taken care of by natural geothermal processes within the earth – untouched by human hand or technology – has produced an enthusiasm comparable to a gold rush.
Cornwall’s senior lithium geologist has stated, “Cornwall has an amazing mining heritage going back 4,500 years, which means there’s a hell of lot of information out there about the sub-surface”. Historical maps created on vellum (animal skins) are now being stitched together into a 3D format, and correlated with satellite and drone imagery. Experts suspect the hot spring beneath Redruth is only the tip of the iceberg. They think Cornwall is riddled with similar hot springs.
An exciting development for the future of the planet, and the next major chapter in the history of Cornwall’s mining industry. Cornwall lithium capital of the world.