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Tin mines to lithium - UK

Tin mines to lithium - UK

The coastline of Cornwall remains scattered with the ruins of long abandoned tin mines. However, a new generation of mining companies are beginning to wake up to the quantum of deposits of another mineral within the Cornish landscape and coastal waters - lithium.

The worldwide demand for lithium, fuelled by the increasing demand for electric vehicles in particular, is increasing lithium prices to record levels. The price of lithium is currently skyrocketing with prices having increased by over 500% over the past twelve months alone to March 2022. Whilst the almost vertical increase in lithium prices in 2021 has flattened since April 2022 albeit at its record level there is no immediate signs that the long-term price increase will stall.

Lithium demand has been estimated to reach 3.3m metric tons by 2030 with 2021 production only just exceeding 0.54m metric tons. This demand and supply gap will need to be met and the continued focus on and demand for electric vehicles suggests that in the short- and medium-term lithium prices will remain at least at their current levels.

The majority of lithium is currently mined in Australia, Latin America and China but given the level of demand for, and accompanying price increase, in lithium new geographical entrants into the market are expected and certainly required. The UK, with its long history of mining, is well placed to be one of those entrants.

The challenge to the new generation of Cornish miners, whose ancestors so successfully exported their skills worldwide, will be their ability to take advantage of the current and expected demand.  Their mining skills are likely to be challenged by the speed of the increased demand in an industry which is already looking for new ways to meet that demand. The utilisation of new technologies such as Direct Lithium Extraction (DLE) and Direct Lithium to Product (DLP) will add further pressure on the new entrants into the market.  

The acquisition of mineral rights by and continued activities of companies such as Cornish Lithium and British Lithium as well as the regeneration of the Hermedon tin and tungsten mine in Dartmoor by Tungsten West has put Southwest England at the forefront of UK mining activities. The electric vehicle revolution is likely to keep them there for the foreseeable future.