By Barbara Lewis
SOUTH CROFTY, England
Britain is banking on a series of ancient mines on its southwestern tip to secure a slice of the global electric car revolution
The English county of Cornwall and the surrounding area boast one of the world’s largest tin deposits yet their centuries-old mines have lain abandoned since the 1990s when a collapse in prices for the metal made them unviable.
Now however a rise in demand for tin, along with other metals that can be used in electric vehicles, electronics and renewable energy, has helped create a global deficit and quadruple prices. British officials are supporting reopening of the mines and seeking investment, leading to a mini-rush of mining companies into the area.
Adding to the potential, new research shows the extent to which mines also contain deposits of lithium, the so-called metal of the future.
The first industrial metals mining in Britain for decades represents the country’s best shot at securing a piece of the supply chain for car batteries as well as renewable energy grid connections, officials told Reuters.
“We need to ensure the secure supply of the technology metals and critical minerals,” said government lawmaker Pauline Latham, who heads a parliamentary mining group. “This is necessary with China owning the majority of the market and the potential of a global trade war between China and America.”
It is however early days for the mining projects and there is no guarantee they will produce commercial volumes of metal. Even if they do, Britain is dwarfed by the likes of China, Chile and Australia in terms of battery resources.
The unlikely British mining revival is one example of how countries around the world are scrambling to grab a piece of the electric vehicle action, an area dominated by China, by far the biggest producer of battery metals.
Germany, for instance, is looking to produce lithium at the Zinnwald project in Southern Saxony to help secure supplies for its car industry
In Finland, a nickel mine in Sotkamo in the north aims to start producing material for electric vehicles by 2020, while battery-grade lithium production is planned in Kaustinen, to the west, in 2020.
Serbia, meanwhile, is looking to Rio Tinto to develop a giant mine for jadarite, a newly discovered mineral that contains both boron and lithium, in the west of the country.
Governments, keen to develop future-proof industrial strategies, are seeking to establish their own sources of minerals needed for electrification and electric vehicles to provide supply certainty, as well as revenue and jobs.
The British drive has become more pressing, officials said, because of the country’s upcoming exit from the European Union, the world’s biggest trading bloc.
MINI METALS RUSH
The charge into southwest England is being led by smaller firms, mainly foreign miners with a higher risk appetite. The majors prefer to mine on a vast scale, allowing them to increase margins and cut costs. They prefer to let junior players take the development risk and then buy fully fledged projects.
About half a dozen companies are exploring in the area, with the biggest players being Canada‘s Strongbow Exploration, Australia’s New Age Exploration and Wolf Minerals, listed in Sydney and London.
Keep reading …