British Lithium moves a step closer to UK production

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British Lithium has taken a crucial step towards commercial production in the UK in a boost for the country’s electric car drive.

The company’s pilot plant in Cornwall is now capable of making 5kg a day of lithium carbonate, which is regarded as more cost-effective for mass market cars than the lithium hydroxide used in more expensive models.

Mining the metal and then using it to manufacture batteries in Britain is crucial to reducing dependency on China, which controls most of the world’s lithium refineries and battery production.

The amounts being produced are a long way from British Lithium’s targets but provide a useful proof of concept.

Roderick Smith, the chairman, said: “The whole purpose of this is to evolve the technology more. So now we’ll have a good year of changes and trials and testing and I expect customers will start to get involved and might want their product to be bespoke in some way.”

The company wants to be able to produce 21,000 tonnes of lithium carbonate or hydroxide a year, which ought to fulfil more than a quarter of UK demand for the material.

The company is developing its own process of extracting the mineral from the mica found in Cornish granite.

A full-scale plant is still about three years away, Mr Smith said. 

The company is the first to make the material at pilot scale, although rival producer Cornish Lithium was part of a team to extract lithium from samples of Cornish and Scottish rock about a year ago.

The developments come amid a scramble to get enough lithium out of the ground to meet global demand and prices soared last year as electric car production escalated. 

While other chemicals are being tested, such as the far more plentiful sodium, they remain in the early stages of development.

Most lithium comes from Australia or South America. Australian miner FireFinch said it would press ahead on a lithium mining project in Mali, partnering with China’s Jiangxi Ganfeng Lithium to invest $255m.

Meanwhile, Volkswagen supplier Vulcan Energy received exploration licences expanding its efforts to try and find the metal in the Upper Rhine Valley in Germany, as carmakers on the continent also try to find local supplies.

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