In what is believed to be a world first, British Lithium have been able to produce lithium at pilot scale from the mica in granite at its new pilot plant near Roche in Cornwall.
Funded by Innovate UK, the pilot plant has taken just seven months to design and build, and uses patented technology in what it says is a sustainable production process.
In March 2021, the company announced that they had secured £2.9 million in funding, via an Innovate UK grant, to construct their pilot lithium extraction plant in the hope of accelerating their route to commercialisation and provide a crucial natural resource to support the electric vehicle manufacturing industry.
The pilot plant design is based on four years’ intensive research and development and is the latest milestone in British Lithium’s progress towards full operational status. All UK car manufacturing will convert to electric vehicles by 2030, and lithium carbonate is a key component in the batteries required to power them.
Their pilot plant approach incorporates all processing stages – from quarrying through to high purity lithium carbonate production, including crushing, grinding and beneficiating the ore, custom-built electric calcination at low temperatures, acid-free leaching and multiple purification steps that include ion-exchange.
“New processes are normally piloted during the definitive feasibility stage but, as lithium has never been produced commercially from mica before, de-risking our proprietary technology is an important step in developing our project,” said chief executive Andrew Smith.
“Doing it now allows us to operate in real world conditions using actual site water and locally sourced commercial reagents. We are delighted with the rapid progress we have made, but there is still a long road ahead in terms of refining and optimising the process.”
British Lithium hope to be manufacturing five kilograms of lithium carbonate per day from early 2022 at their pilot plant – enough to demonstrate its commercial value to customers. Once the process is fully developed, work will begin on building a full-scale plant.
“Our goal is to produce 21,000 tonnes of battery-grade lithium carbonate each year,” said British Lithium chair Roderick Smith. “At the moment, we will be the only lithium producer in the world to be quarrying and refining on one site, which adds to the sustainability of the project.
“The support we have had from Innovate UK, government departments, Cornwall Council and a range of key stakeholders has been vital, and we look forward to considerably ramping up our operations over the next two or three years.”