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Hope springs from hot springs: Can Cornwall cash in on EV success?

Cornwall has emerged as an unlikely source for the energy powering electric vehicles as a small local company reports a surge of interest and, crucially, funding to excavate lithium.

Lithium was first discovered in the popular, picturesque county at the UK’s south western tip in 1864 with the area around Redruth at the hub of a tin and copper mining industry which generated wealth for a region otherwise heavily dependent on tourism. With the closure of the last tin mine in 1998, an era appeared to have been brought to a closure.

Ex-banker, Jeremy Wrathall, researched the possibilities offered by the county’s mining legacy – one site near the village of Gwennap, south of Redruth, was once described as “the richest square mile on earth” due to its rich mineral resources - and founded Cornish Lithium in 2016. The company now has a team of geologists to evaluate lithium potential across 330km2 of Cornwall where they have exploration rights.

Cornish Lithium announced in August that they had found lithium of a “globally significant” grade from hot springs near Gwennap. Wrathall declared that the find could kick start a renaissance for mining in the county with the hope that “Cornwall will become the battery materials hub for the UK”.

The lithium-ion battery is commonly used for portable electronics and electric vehicles and the manufacture of these high-powered chargeable devices account for over 50% of the global production of the metal. With the increasing sales of electric vehicles, demand for lithium can only grow rapidly and Wrathall has tapped into this.

Cornish Lithium, in collaboration with Geothermal Engineering, received an investment of £4m from the government’s Getting Building Fund in August to build a lithium extraction plant. Then, following the announcement of the August find, Wrathall set a target of receiving another £1.5m through crowdfunding in mid-October.

Within 24 hours, thousands of individual investors had already contributed almost £4m to the fund. The crowdfunding round was closed after three days having reached £5.2m and the company stated that with a minimum investment of just £10, 15% of the investors came from within the county.

The successes of the last few months have accorded Wrathall the impetus to accelerate plans to start production of lithium-ion batteries within three to five years.

A week after the closure of the crowdfunding, research from the investment bank UBS suggested that electrical vehicles will be as cheap to manufacture as their fossil fuel equivalents by 2024. UBS site a drop in the cost of manufacturing lithium-ion batteries as the reason for this.

The stars seem to have aligned for Cornish Lithium.


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