How UK mines will be key to ending our dependence on China

Cornwall and the North East could become hot spots in Britain’s race to secure essential metals to fuel the green industrial transition.

China currently dominates the supply chain for batteries needed for electric vehicles and green energy infrastructure, including critical metals, lithium, nickel and cobalt, and rare earths that power wind turbines.

In Cornwall, two companies are in the early stages of exploring for lithium in geothermal waters and reusing centuries-old clay mines in China, in the first stage of a possible gold rush for metals in the southwest which could be worth billions.

A third company, Northern Lithium, hopes to extract the minerals from the hot saline brines in Weardale granite in County Durham.

At the same time, a site on the Humber has been proposed for the UK’s first rare earth processing plant, which could power a new hub of green industry, building batteries and wind turbines.

The southwest of England sits on lithium enriched granite, which forms the outcrops of Dartmoor, Bodmin and St Austell, extending to the Isles of Scilly.

“If you look at Cornwall on Google Earth, you can see that it actually looks a bit like a lunar landscape around St Austell, because of the porcelain clay industry,” said Lucy Crane, senior geologist at Cornish Lithium. “Some of these existing surface mines have the greatest potential for lithium production.”

The lithium market is expected to grow 16% each year through 2027, largely due to the demand for electric vehicles. And from 2024, UK-made car batteries will have to be made in the country, or face a 10% tariff to enter the EU market.

To produce 3 million electric vehicles per year, the UK will need 154,000 tonnes of lithium per year, nearly 40% of the global market in 2020, according to analysts Benchmark Mineral Intelligence (BMI).

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