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Q&A Session 10: British Lithium

Welcome to our Q&A session with Roderick Smith, Chair at British Lithium.

The Q&A will cover:

  • Why British Lithium chose Cornwall, UK

  • Mi-Sep and Li-Sep technologies and battery metal production

  • British Lithium's future plans and community engagement

1) CMA: How did British Lithium come about and why did you choose Cornwall?

Two main factors drove us to Cornwall; Rocks and honest people.

Our CEO Andrew Smith had been Project Manager for the Cinovec lithium project in Czechia, which is Europe’s largest lithium deposit, and is hosted in an unusual lithium mica granite. In 2017 Andrew recognised similar rocks in the Cornubian Batholith, and we wound up drilling the first lithium exploration holes in the UK, finding a substantial lithium deposit.

Secondly, I have worked for 40 years on mine developments in many (sometimes unfriendly) parts of the world, and came to realise that sovereign risk, and the social licence to operate can be more important than the rocks. To me, it’s a dream to work back in the UK, and especially in Cornwall where there is a fondness for and knowledge of mining, and a supportive government.

Recently emerged is the competitive advantage of renewable power in Cornwall for lithium production. Ever since dieselgate, carmakers have avidly audited their supply chains for environmental footprint. Most lithium is now extracted (from Australian ore) and refined in China using coal, and 80% of batteries are made there. As Cornwall already has 40% renewable power, and ambitions for 100%, we could have an environmental advantage over imported battery materials.

2) CMA: What are the Mi-Sep and Li-Sep technologies and how will they change the future of battery metal production?

Most lithium comes from spodumene ore in Western Australia (where I am penning this note). However, most hard rock lithium in Europe, and all that in Cornwall, occurs in micaceous granite, a much more complex mineral, and generally far lower grade than spodumene. These rocks have never before produced lithium commercially, so we had to develop a whole new process. Demand for lithium is being driven by environmental concerns, and so our bespoke process had to be the most sustainable possible. Our patented LiMica-Sep™ process physically separates lithium-bearing mica from granite, using no chemicals and producing only sand as waste. Our patented Li-Sep™ process uses a single low-temperature electric calcine and neutral pH leach to extract battery-grade lithium.

3) CMA: Can you share with us British Lithium’s future plans? What’s next?

Last year we designed, built, and installed a vertically integrated £4 million pilot plant taking granite ore in one end, producing battery-grade lithium carbonate at the other. The pilot plant will test and demonstrate our technologies and allow further optimisation and refinement, reduce scale-up risk, enable measurement and mitigation of any waste streams, and provide lithium samples for potential customers.

We completed a Scoping Study in 2020 and our next task is a full pre-feasibility study using lessons learned from piloting, extensive additional drilling and a full Environmental and Social Impact Assessment.

Our plan is to build a £350 million, full-scale integrated quarry and refinery in Cornwall producing 20,800 tpa of battery-grade lithium carbonate, meeting one-third of Britain’s projected requirement. We are working with several Government agencies and investors with a view to fomenting the build-out of the lithium to EV supply chain in the UK, by providing a competitive advantage to local cathode and battery makers. It is surprising to us that hundreds of billions of euros are being invested in Europe, and yet no battery-grade lithium is produced there!

4) CMA: How has British Lithium engaged with the local community to date?

All our employees live and work in Cornwall and so we feel immediately part of the local family. We have completed the first phases of our environmental and social baseline studies which will feed into the upcoming ESIA. We have engaged extensively with local bodies such as Cornwall Council, Cornwall and Isles of Scilly LEP, Heart of the South-West LEP, Western Gateway and further afield with UK Gov DIT and BEIS. We have been very open with the local press, and are pleased that our activities are covered widely.

5) CMA: Why did you decide to join the CMA?

I have followed CMA closely since its inception, and am very impressed by its work engaging with Government, Industry, and the community. There is incredibly important work to be done to secure strategic supplies of critical raw materials (not just lithium) to ensure that the UK benefits from the green industrial revolution. A lot is at stake for the country, and the issues are much bigger than any one person or company. By pooling resources through the CMA, I believe its members can encourage Government policy, community acceptance and first-class environmental performance, that will benefit the wider community.

Find out more about British Lithium here:

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