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Energy

214: Lithium from geothermal heating plants

Problem:

Five times more lithium than is mined currently is going to be necessary to meet global climate targets by 2050, according to the World Bank.

Solution:

Lithium extracted from geothermal waters.


In 1864, huge quantities of lithium were discovered in a hot spring is discovered nearly 450m (1,485ft) below ground in the Wheal Clifford, a copper mine in Cornwall. But 19th-Century England had little need for the element, and this 122C (252F) lithium-rich water continued boiling away in the dark for more than 150 years.

Instead, Cornwall became world famous for its tin and copper mines.

In 2016 Cornish Lithium was founded by mining engineer and businessman Jeremy Wrathall and a team of 10 full-time geoscientists led by Lucy Crane to use modern extraction methods at the United Downs Geothermal Power site, the UK’s first deep geothermal electricity plant.

The site, confirmed as having some of the world’s highest grades of lithium in geothermal waters (260 milligrams per litre) would have a tiny environmental footprint in comparison with conventional surface lithium mining, including very low carbon emissions.

The directors of Cornish Lithium have secured agreements with various holders of mineral rights in Cornwall to explore for, and to commercially develop, lithium bearing hot spring brines throughout areas considered to be highly prospective.

In August 2020, the project won £4m ($5.3m) backing from the UK government, allowing a pilot lithium extraction plant to be built in the next couple of years and move Cornish mining into the 21st century.

Visit us tomorrow for Solution 215: Recycling plastic to make oil – on a desk top!

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