One thing we have learnt this week- lithium mining in Cornwall

Lithium_paraffinLithium mining in Cornwall looks like it could be possible this week.  As the costs of wind and solar fall below the cost of all other forms of energy on disparate parts of the planet and sales of hybrid/electric cars/laptops/phones/pads etc. continue to grow strongly the worlds’ demand for this metal is insatiable.  The old conundrum of variability of renewable output looks like being solved over the next 5 years or so with a wide variety of energy storage solutions being worked on.  The lead solution is lithium batteries however, hence the need to find new sources.

As we wrote in our book we had concerns over lithium mining and also concerns over whether there was enough of the bright shiny metal to go round.

The greatest concern may not be the issue of electricity, but that of lithium and neodymium supply. Currently all electric cars use lithium batteries and the electric motors require elements known as ‘rare earths’ (especially neodymium) to make powerful permanent magnets. There are 27 million cars in the UK and around 600
million worldwide. It seems to us that replacing all these with electric cars with lithium batteries, let alone increasing the number, may not be possible. There is also an ethical issue which Christians should be concerned about, which is where the lithium comes from and how it is mined. At the moment most lithium is mined in South America and the largest potential reserves are in high-altitude desert in Bolivia, which is a unique ecosystem. There has to be concern that we may exchange one problem of damage to the environment caused by our driving for another. Bolivia also wants a cut of the
action, that is, to add value to the supply chain by getting fairly paid for the materials it sells us and preferably making the batteries there.

Lithium mining in Cornwall has some attractions.  Firstly in a developed country higher environmental standards are likely to be enforced.  Second, there is another attraction of Lithium mining in Cornwall.  That is the lithium is present in hot brine.  The water is hot from the decay of uranium in the granite.  The mining could therefore be combined with a useful source of renewable energy by sinking boreholes.  This could make the whole process more carbon neutral.  The concern I have is that extraction process takes very large tanks (using evaporation) although the company concerned say there is a new process which takes a lot less surface area and is much more environmentally friendly.  In addition there maybe no use for hot water where the mining takes place (in rural areas) although there are now low temperature turbines capable of producing electricity.

I’d give this idea a cautious welcome.  The companies website is here but gives very few details.

Neil

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