The UK’s first commercial lithium mine is to open in Cornwall, following a new partnership between Imerys, the world leader in mineral-based solutions, and British Lithium.

It has been estimated that the site contains enough lithium to sustain mining there for 30 years, producing around 20,000 tonnes of lithium carbonate equivalent annually. By the end of the decade, the mine should be producing enough of the metal for batteries to power 500,000 electrical vehicles per year.

With funding from Innovate UK and the Automotive Transformation Fund, British Lithium has carried out drilling and exploration on Imerys-owned land in Cornwall since 2017 and has developed a unique process and pilot plant to produce battery-grade lithium carbonate. Under the new venture, which it is hoped will create new job opportunities in Cornwall, Imerys will hold an 80% stake in the joint venture, while British Lithium will retain 20%.

Prospecting has revealed that the Cornish site holds an estimated 161 million tonnes of lithium oxide. British Lithium said that, consequently, this site could meet around two-thirds of the UK’s lithium needs in 2030, when fossil fuel vehicles are due to be phased out.

Kemi Badenoch, business and trade secretary, said the joint venture between Imerys and British Lithium would ‘strengthen’ the UK’s domestic supply of critical minerals. ‘[This] is vitally important as we seek to grow the UK’s advanced manufacturing industry and help create the jobs of the future,’ she added.

Paul Shearing, professor of sustainable energy engineering at the University of Oxford, says sourcing critical minerals to support battery manufacturing is ‘essential’ to the growth of the electric vehicle industry, as well as the deployment of batteries in other applications such as grid-scale storage, in support of net zero. ‘The developments for lithium mining domestically in the UK provides an exciting opportunity, increasing the available raw materials and improving the geographical diversity of supply,’ he adds. ‘It also presents an opportunity to establish best practices locally for lithium extraction, which could be proximate to UK and European battery manufacture.’