Cornish Lithium is one of several UK companies aiming to boost domestic capabilities in supply chains crucial to the energy transition. It plans to extract lithium from hard rock and brine in the southwestern county of Cornwall, which has seen its formerly prosperous mining industry decline over many years. The company expects to start production on its hard rock lithium project as early as 2026.
Jeremy Wrathall, CEO of Cornish Lithium, speaks with fDi about the UK's critical mineral strategy, the importance of domestic supply and why there should be more focus on raw materials in the UK.
Q: Cornish Lithium’s projects are aligned with the UK’s strategic objectives of building resilience in its critical mineral supply chains, but are these plans realistic?
A: Absolutely, these plans are realistic. At our hard rock lithium project, we recently finished our scoping study to an extremely high level of detail that showed that the project is competitive on an international scale. This is guided by the cost curve that will emerge from electric vehicles and power storage over the next ten years. But even with the current cost curve, our hard rock and brine lithium projects are also very competitive and real.
The UK lost its self belief in the fact that we could produce minerals ourselves. That is a real tragedy, because Cornwall was a powerhouse in mineral extraction. This is very much needed for the UK economy if we’re not going to be held hostage by China. If you have control of the ultimate raw material, and are not importing from other countries, you have got control of your destiny.
Q: Why is the UK suddenly pursuing these domestic mining projects?
A: Government ministers used to stand up and say we’re a country that has been dependent on imports and that’s where we would remain. Since the Ukraine invasion, and the increasing difficulties with China, that is no longer true. We really need to rediscover what we can actually find on our own doorstep.
That’s been highlighted by the EU, by the US Inflation Reduction Act and now the UK government’s critical mineral strategy. The UK is well behind the curve on that, but at least it has now been published. We already have an advantage with existing infrastructure that was built for the former tin mine industry and the china clay industry.
Q: Could more support be given by the UK government to critical minerals?
A: We are very grateful for the government’s support. While the UK government came late to the party, it realises that it is an important issue and has published a critical mineral strategy to highlight its importance.
But there is nowhere near enough support being directed to critical minerals in the UK. It is simply not even close to what is being offered by the US or EU.
A lot of funding has gone into automotive and batteries, but very little has gone into raw materials. As an analogy, this is like trying to grow a plant without the roots. If you’ve got no raw materials, you’ve got no supply. Institutional investors in the UK need to wake up to this and pour capital into this area.
This is doable and something that could revitalise the Cornish economy, in possibly a small or large way. This is a way we can change the UK economy and hold our own in the energy transition.
This interview was edited for brevity and clarity.