Imerys & British Lithium prepare lithium mining in Cornwall
The French mining group Imerys is acquiring an 80 per cent stake in British Lithium, and the two companies are forming a joint venture with the aim of creating the UK’s first integrated producer of battery-grade lithium carbonate.
According to a statement from Imerys, the two companies already have numerous points of contact. British Lithium has been drilling and exploring on Imerys’ Cornwall site since 2017. The British company has also installed a pilot plant on site. Now the ties are getting even closer, and Imerys is taking over 80 per cent of British Lithium for an undisclosed price. A joint venture is to extract lithium from Cornwall in the future.
Imerys brings mineral resources and properties in Cornwall, as well as the infrastructure, into the 80:20 joint venture. British Lithium is contributing its lithium processing technology, technical team and on-site pilot plant for granite-derived lithium. The partners aim to make Cornwall “the leading lithium hub in the UK” and achieve annual production of 20,000 tonnes of lithium carbonate by the end of the decade, which Imerys says should be enough to produce 500,000 electric car batteries a year, meeting about two-thirds of the UK’s estimated battery demand by 2030 (“when all UK car manufacturers switch to electric vehicles”).
The lithium deposit on Imery’s land is estimated at 161 million tonnes of material with a lithium oxide content of 0.54%. The French company deduces that the mine should have a life of more than 30 years. The partners say the drilling programme and pre-feasibility study (PFS) are underway and that the targeted development will include a quarry, a processing plant and a conversion plant co-located on the brownfield site of Imerys to produce high-purity lithium.
British Lithium unveiled a process developed in Cornwall in early 2022 to extract lithium from granite, although the lithium content in Cornish granite is relatively low. In Australia, where lithium is also extracted by conventional mining, the lithium content is said to be four times as high. In order to still be competitive in terms of costs, British Lithium has developed what it claims is a particularly efficient process to process the raw material whereby ore-bearing granite is crushed and ground. This is followed by the newly developed calcination at lower temperatures before the lithium carbonate is leached acid-free and purified in several steps.
At the presentation of the first pilot-scale successes, British Lithium still stated that it was planning to build a large plant for 21,000 tonnes of battery-grade lithium carbonate per year. This plant was to be built in the immediate vicinity of the granite quarry, it was said at the time. The joint venture plans drawn up together with Imerys now envisage just that.
Imerys says that by combining this project with the EMILI project in France, it will “become the largest integrated lithium producer in Europe, covering more than 20% of the announced European lithium production by 2030”. The group already employs 1,100 people in the UK, of which 830 are based in Cornwall. Imerys is also part of the EU-funded project LiCORNE (Lithium Recovery and Battery Grade Materials Production from European Resources), which aims to set up the first complete European supply chain for lithium processing resources available in Europe.