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Electric dreams: the return of Cornish mining?

Botallack in the west of Cornwall, a former tin, copper and arsenic mine, and today a UNESCO World Heritage site Botallack in the west of Cornwall, a former tin, copper and arsenic mine, and today a UNESCO World Heritage site
07 Jul
2018
A new interest in Cornish mines has been sparked amid the electric vehicle revolution

Metal mining companies from around the world want to return to Cornwall. The increasing value of tin and lithium – spurred by electric car production – has renewed interest in the Cornish deposits. The activity holds historical significance to the county, which once boasted 2,000 tin mines and was Europe’s mining capital until the early 20th century.

Lithium occurs deep underground in warm, salty brines. There are records of such liquids flooding Cornish tin mines as far back as 1864, back when there was little demand for the metal. Now its use in electric consumables and for lithium-ion batteries by the likes of Tesla, means demand is expected to rise two to threefold by 2025. ‘Lithium is almost like the new gold,’ says Cristian Rossi, an Earth observation specialist at Satellite Applications Catapult, a tech company based south of Oxford. Rossi has discovered a method of spotting probable areas of lithium occurrence using satellite images of Cornwall’s geology, minerals and vegetation cover. ‘It means we can predict where the lithium is without having to dig anything yet,’ he explains.

One of Catapult’s partners is a UK mining startup, Cornish Lithium. According to the startup’s projections, the county likely holds the only viable deposits of the metal in the UK, which it claims is plentiful enough to provide a self-sustaining supply. Cornish Lithium CEO, Jeremy Wrathall, says: ‘satellite maps will reduce costs of exploration and better prioritise areas on which to focus our exploration for lithium-bearing brines in Cornwall.’

The breakthrough comes on the heels of renewed interest in Cornish tin. Exploratory drilling has begun at Redmoor mine in east Cornwall – a joint project by UK-based Strategic Minerals and Australian resource company New Age Exploration. Meanwhile, the Canadian company, Strongbow Explorations hope to float the South Crofty mine (located in Pool, West Cornwall) on the London Stock Exchange this summer in a bid to finance new mining in the area by 2021. If successful, it will be the first time metal is mined in the county since South Crofty closed its gates in 1998. 

This was published in the July 2018 edition of Geographical magazine

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