Why Cornwall?

Cornwall’s rich natural capital means that it is poised to play a key role in the energy transition away from fossil fuels. Alongside its georesources (geothermal and minerals) and its rich mining heritage, there is potential for wind and solar renewable energy.

Opportunities for responsible extraction in the UK

With the move to global decarbonisation, and battery technology driving the clean energy revolution, demand for the raw materials required for low carbon technologies is increasing. The UK is now being re-evaluated for its geological potential to provide some of these critical raw materials, for use in domestic supply chains as well as abroad, as the UK is currently totally reliant on imports of lithium and other battery metals. Recent research highlights concern about the environmental and carbon footprint of current global lithium extraction projects.

The Department for International Trade has designated Cornish mining and service providers a ‘High Potential Opportunity’. Local and national government have indicated their support for a new, environmentally responsible metal extraction industry in the County.

The Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership (CIOS LEP) Industrial Strategy highlights georesources as one of the key sectors that could play a critical role in growing the region’s economy.

Why Cornwall?

Cornwall is one of the most geologically prospective regions of the UK. Located at the most South Westerly edge of the UK. Cornwall has a rich mining heritage dating back to the Bronze Age, when it was discovered that incorporating small amounts of tin into copper made it easier to work with than pure copper. Between 1700 and 1914, the region was key in driving the creation of England’s industrial economy. Initially alluvial deposits of tin were worked but when technology improved there was a move to the underground mining of mineralised lodes to exploit rich deposits of tin and copper. In the 18th century, the ‘Cornubian Orefield’ was the centre of the mining world – producing more copper and tin than anywhere else across the globe. Its dominance continued until the turn of the 20th century, when falling metal prices and cheaper mines around the world took over. Tin mining persisted longer than other commodities but the collapse of the tin price in the 1990s led to the closure of South Crofty, the last operating metal mine in Cornwall, in 1998.

During its time as the mining capital of the world, Cornwall was home to many inventions and scientific institutions, including the first high pressure steam engine invented by Richard Trevithick and Camborne School of Mines – which today remains one of the top mining schools in the world.

Cornwall’s landscape has been shaped by mining, and the industry is ingrained to the culture of the county, so much so that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated 20,000 hectares of it a World Heritage Site in 2006. Perhaps due to this legacy, public perception of the mining industry in the South West is strongly positive, with a 2011 report suggesting that the majority of local residents believe that the reopening of mines would be a significant socio-economic boost for a county that has been forced to rely heavily on tourism in recent decades.

During its time as the mining capital of the world, Cornwall was home to many inventions and scientific institutions, including the first steam-powered engine invented by Richard Trevithick and the Camborne School of Mines – which today remains one of the top mining schools in the world.

Cornwall’s landscape has been shaped by mining, and the industry is ingrained to the culture of the county, so much so that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated 20,000 hectares of it a World Heritage Site in 2006. Perhaps due to this legacy, public perception of the mining industry in the South West is strongly positive, with a 2011 report suggesting that the majority of local residents believe that the reopening of mines would be a significant socio-economic boost for a county that has been forced to rely heavily on tourism in recent decades.

Current Extractive Industry

Since the 20th century the region’s mining industry has been dominated by the extraction of china clay. China clay, otherwise known as kaolin, is an alteration product produced during the weathering of minerals within granitic bodies. Cornwall has large, high-quality deposits of kaolin which are important on a global scale and are worked by Imerys. Kaolin is used as an opacifier in paint and paper and is also used in ceramics. Quarrying for dimension stone and aggregate also still occurs in the South West region.

Very recently, the South West began to see a resurgence in its metal extraction industry. Old mines were closed due to plummeting metal prices rather than a lack of ore, and modern exploration techniques have not previously been employed in the region – suggesting the Cornubian Orefield still has much potential.

When Cornwall was the mining capital of the world, it was home to many inventions and scientific institutions, including the first steam-powered engine invented by Richard Trevithick and Camborne School of Mines – which today remains renowned across the globe.

  • Cornwall’s landscape has been shaped by mining, and the industry is ingrained in the culture of the County, so much so that United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated 20,000 hectares of it a World Heritage Site in 2006. Perhaps due to this legacy, public perception of the mining industry in the South West is strongly positive, with a 2011 report suggesting that the majority of local residents believe that the reopening of mines would be a significant socio-economic boost for a county that has been forced to rely heavily on tourism in recent decades.
  • Cornwall Resources is exploring for tin and tungsten in North Cornwall and have returned promising interceptions from its preliminary drill programmes.
  • Cornish Metals (previously Strongbow Resources) is developing its United Downs copper-tin project and has gained permission from the Environment Agency to de-water the South Crofty tin mine.
  • Tungsten West is restarting the Hemerdon Tungsten Mine near Plymouth.

The Cornwall Mining Alliance has over 100 members, and demonstrates the breadth of skills and knowledge available in the region.

Renewable Energy

Cornwall’s abundant natural capital includes its potential for solar, wind and wave energy and Cornwall Council is highly supportive of renewable energy projects within the County. Of particular interest to Cornish Lithium is the potential for geothermal energy: the high proportion of heat producing elements within Cornish granites means that the geothermal gradient is much higher than elsewhere in the UK but has never before been commercially exploited. Three projects are currently planned to take advantage of geothermal heat and power:

  • United Downs Deep Geothermal Project: The team has drilled two boreholes in to the Porthtowan Fault Zone in central Cornwall to depths of 5.2km and 2.5km, with the aim of producing geothermal heat and power from the deep geothermal waters by the end of 2021. Cornish Lithium has received funding from the UK Government Getting Building Fund to collaborate with Geothermal Engineering Limited to build a pilot lithium extraction plant at the site, which will be powered by geothermal energy.
  • Eden Geothermal: In partnership with Cornwall-based EGS Energy, the Eden Project is currently implementing the first phase of its geothermal project, with a 3-4MW geothermal power plant planned to heat its offices, greenhouses and biomes.
  • Penzance Pool: Funded by a £1.4 million European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) grant, a section of the Jubilee Pool in West Cornwall is heated using geothermal energy.

Cornish Lithium strives to be as environmentally responsible as possible, and is fully supportive of these initiatives, which contribute to the County’s decarbonisation and the UK’s energy transition. Potential also exists to power future metal extraction processes from renewable energy sources, which will significantly reduce the carbon impact of their production.

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