The UK’s ambition to be at the forefront of battery and electric vehicle production faces a key hurdle – the reliance on imports of lithium and other critical raw materials. A new project undertaken by Imerys, Cornish Lithium, and HSSMI, aims to explore the possibilities for sourcing lithium in the UK.
The project partners have identified that lithium mica can be extracted from decomposed granite, which is abundantly present in Cornwall and used for the extraction of china clay (or kaolin). The Cornish kaolin industry is over 200 years old and has been in operation since the mineral was first discovered. Kaolin today finds its way into many applications such as paints, coatings, plastics, ceramics, rubber, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics.
This new project aims to evaluate the economic viability of extracting lithium from minerals that occur in the same rock as kaolin, thus at the same time making kaolin even more competitive on the global market whilst establishing a steady domestic supply of lithium that is vital to the transition away from fossil fuels and towards a zero-carbon economy, due to its use in lithium-ion battery technologies.
An understanding of lithium extraction techniques from source rocks is still being developed and will be strengthened as a result of this project, which will evaluate newly available extraction technologies and explore the potential for new business models for the kaolin industry. Above all, it will define whether it is commercially feasible to co-produce lithium alongside kaolin.
The opportunity to produce lithium from minerals found in kaolin will help build a circular economy by reducing waste and generating additional revenue. Moreover, if successful, this project would protect existing jobs and create opportunities for new highly skilled employment in the region. It would also create a vertically integrated UK battery supply chain for the automotive and transport sectors, benefiting the wider British economy, increasing supply independence and securing the presence of vital industries here in the UK.
The Role of HSSMI
For HSSMI, this project represents an opportunity to leverage existing knowledge on the electric vehicle battery supply chain, work within the extractive industry and develop the Circular Economy team’s offerings related to circular business models and industrial symbiosis.
HSSMI will conduct life cycle assessments (LCAs) to assess overall carbon footprint and the potential to reduce emissions. HSSMI will also conduct facility design analysis to assess viability of auxiliary facilities for battery supply chain activities.