UNITED DOWNS: A MILESTONE ON THE JOURNEY TO LOCAL, LOW CARBON LITHIUM PRODUCTION

  • Posted: 12 Aug 2021

Third party testing at the United Downs site in Cornwall has revealed high levels of lithium, a vital component of electric vehicle batteries, in its geothermal waters.

The announcement is another stride forward in the production of locally sourced, low carbon lithium and holds vast potential for the UK’s transition to electric vehicles.

Geothermal Engineering Ltd (GEL), the company behind UK’s first deep geothermal electricity power plant, has also announced that – alongside other partners – it has been trialling sustainable, zero carbon methods of removing the lithium from the fluid, so far managing to achieve a 95% extraction rate.

“This is a really exciting development for United Downs and is a proof of concept for the production of low carbon lithium in the UK – something that is vital to meet the government’s targets for decarbonising all domestic transport by 2050. We know that geothermal energy is critical to the future of our energy mix and we look forward to seeing the role this site in particular will play in stabilising and securing power.” Matthew Clayton, Managing Director, Thrive Renewables

“Deep geothermal heat and power are already set to help the world reach net zero targets. The addition of lithium production with no carbon footprint or environmental damage will help to drive more geothermal projects forward in the UK and offer more opportunities for green jobs. If the UK is to reach the government target to produce only electric vehicles by 2035, we have to find more sustainable and geopolitically more reliable ways to deliver lithium batteries. Establishing meaningful onshore lithium production in the UK would also encourage a lithium-ion battery-based economy to develop in the UK, and could attract further important inward investment opportunities for Cornwall and the South West.” Ryan Law, Managing Director of Geothermal Engineering Ltd

Lithium is a naturally occurring metal found around the world but is predominantly mined in South America and Australia, before being shipped to China for processing into battery-grade lithium. The final stage of the process then sees batteries sent to Europe to be installed into electric vehicles.

With the UK government announcing its plans to end the sale of new petrol and diesel cars in the UK by 2030, there is huge opportunity for renewable energies such as geothermal to support in lithium extraction and battery production.

The Faraday Institution, a government-backed body set up in 2017 to promote the battery industry, estimates UK demand for lithium could reach 59,000 tonnes a year of lithium carbonate equivalent by 2035, based on projected growth in domestic battery demand.