United Downs geothermal generation plant set to deliver UK’s first commercial quantities of lithium for car batteries

  • Posted: 23 Nov 2023

High concentration of lithium found at United Downs geothermal project could support growing UK electric vehicle industry.

Geothermal Engineering Limited (GEL) has announced plans to produce significant quantities of the UK’s first locally-sourced lithium using clean power generated at United Downs. Its recent tests have shown that fluid within the deep geothermal wells at United Downs in Cornwall contained around 340 parts per million (ppm) of lithium - the highest concentration of lithium found in any commercial geothermal lithium project in Europe. Having provided the first commercial funding for United Downs in 2020 and further investment for the power plant construction in 2023, we’re thrilled to hear the project’s latest development which could see GEL fulfil a significant portion of the UK’s lithium demand.      

GEL was recently awarded £1.8m by the Automotive Transformation Fund (ATF) Scale up Readiness programme.  They aim to produce around 100 tonnes per annum (tpa) of Lithium Carbonate Equivalent (LCE) in late 2024 which they say will be ramped up to at least 1,000 tpa from United Downs as early as 2026.  Planning permission has been secured for two other geothermal projects in Cornwall and GEL aims to rapidly expand production to over 12,000 tpa in the UK by 2030. They report this is enough to produce around 250,000 electric vehicle batteries for an average sized car [1], or 94% of the LCE needed to supply the 267,000 new Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) registered in the UK in 2022 [2]. 

Lithium can be sustainably extracted from geothermal fluid, avoiding the energy-intensive production processes currently used such as mining.  

“The record levels of lithium found at United Downs is a hugely exciting development that will be critical in supporting the UK’s electric car market as we transition to net zero. Lithium is a key component of electric vehicle batteries that will be increasingly essential as diesel and petrol cars are phased out. The news highlights Cornwall’s significant renewable energy resource, and we hope the United Downs project, which we are proud to have funded, will set a precedent for further geothermal exploration in the UK.” – Matthew Clayton, Managing Director, Thrive Renewables

"We are extremely excited by the high concentration of lithium that we have found in our geothermal wells in Cornwall as it will enable us to produce meaningful quantities of lithium without damaging the environment. Our ability to produce both lithium and zero-carbon baseload power will provide a foundation for the electric car market to be truly sustainable in the UK. The importance of our projects is now being recognised by the Government with recent grant funding awards and secure contracts for the electricity we produce. This is helping us to secure the further investment required for a rapid roll out of projects to enable the UK to reach its ambitious targets.

Cornwall is in a unique position in hosting these significant lithium and geothermal reserves. We hope that establishing Cornwall as a significant hub for lithium-related activities alongside its exciting geothermal potential, new job opportunities and significant economic growth will be brought to the region.” – Ryan Law, CEO, Geothermal Engineering Limited

After providing the first commercial funding for the United Downs geothermal power plant in 2020, Thrive invested an additional £3 million in the project in 2023 to fund construction.  

[1] The average amount of lithium carbonate equivalent (LCE) per car is 47.4kg.  Sources IEA, World Economic Forum, Reuters, Goldman Sachs. GEL production target is 12,000 tonnes of LCE per year. Therefore, number of cars per year is circa 250,000. 

[2] According to the UK Government, 267,000 Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) were registered in 2022.