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The rebirth of sustainable mining in Cornwall

The rebirth of sustainable mining in Cornwall, the UK’s strategic metals powerhouse.

Cornwall has long been the centre of the UK’s mining industry, with a storied history dating back as far as the Bronze Age. Famous for its china clay, base metal and tin production, Cornwall was the mining centre of the world during the 18th century – extracting clay, copper, silver and zinc.

Cornish miners were considered the best hard rock miners, leading the industry with their skills and innovative technology, which was exported globally. In 1888 this expertise resulted in the founding of the world-famous Camborne School of Mines.

Today, over 130 years on, a new wave of mining innovation is sweeping across the region. As we shift towards decarbonising all aspects of economy and society, the identification and sustainable mining of strategic metals will become key to de-risking supply chains to fuel the energy demands of a cleaner, greener future for the UK.

Indeed, demand growth for strategic metals is forecast to significantly increase in the near future – with at least 400% increase in demand for lithium within six years. Cornwall has the potential to supply 66% of Britain’s lithium demand – the equivalent of 1 million electric vehicles per year, vital if the UK is to deliver on the government’s policy to phase out of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030.

Cornwall has an abundance of high-grade lithium, tin, copper, tungsten and other strategic metals ready to be extracted in one of the most politically and fiscally stable mining jurisdictions. This makes the region a prime location for the exploration and extraction of the resources needed to meet increasing global demand, leading to many companies and institutions now investing in the opportunities Cornwall has to offer.

The significance of Cornwall’s lithium potential has already been recognised by investors globally. Last month Cornish Lithium, an innovative mineral exploration and research and development company, secured £6 million in private investment including £2 million raised through a public crowdfunding campaign that sold out in just fifteen minutes – all based on a value that has doubled since October 2020.

The company also recently secured a share in £9.4m in Government investment as they work towards a full-scale lithium extraction plant in Cornwall. Their Trelavour Hard Rock Lithium Scoping Study will assess the feasibility of developing a sustainable UK supply chain, through the construction of an extraction plant that will produce low-carbon lithium hydroxide from a hard rock source in St Austell.

British Lithium is also developing commercial extraction of lithium carbonate from the mica in granite in Cornwall an ethical, environmentally responsible way. They are currently working on the build of a pilot plant in Cornwall to demonstrate real-world conditions and produce battery-grade lithium carbonate. In the past three months British Lithium has applied for three patents. They are developing innovative Li-Sep technology to firstly concentrate the lithium-mica that occurs in granite without the use of acid, and then to extract the lithium carbonate from the mica with minimum carbon emissions and waste. The technology is benchmarked to all existing producers (by Roskill Sustainability monitor) and promises to have a low carbon footprint.

And it’s not just Lithium. Cornwall Resources (CRL) are actively exploring for tin, tungsten, and copper at the Redmoor project, located near to Kelly Bray in east Cornwall. A subsidiary of Strategic Minerals plc – a British company listed on the London AIM market – CRL is currently targeting a potentially economic high-grade resource through a combination of new drilling and substantial previous data. Through this unique combination, CRL has developed a “Zero Harm” strategy – not compromising Health, Safety, the Environment or Community. Following a program of drilling in 2017, CRL were able to successfully increase the Redmoor Inferred resource and work is now underway to further delineate the resource.

Another organisation boosting the region’s mining capabilities is Cornish Metals. Spotting the potential in Cornwall, through the acquisition of the South Crofty mine, this AIM and TSX-listed exploration company has positioned itself at the heart of the sector, paving the way for the production of ‘clean tin’. Following a successful exploration drilling campaign in 2020, the company has recently announced that a second phase of exploration drilling has commenced at its United Downs copper-tin project.

These are just some examples of the current activities in Cornwall. Innovations in exploration and extraction technologies are revealing the commercial potential in the region, opening up a world of new possibilities for the future of Cornish mining.

Cornwall is one of the most prospective areas in the UK – often described as “one of the world’s most heavily mined but under explored mineral provinces”. The region has more than 100 companies supporting a developed and growing mining cluster, with a steady pipeline of graduates and access to world-class research and development from institutions such as Plymouth University’s School of Geography, Earth & Environmental Science, the University of Exeter’s Camborne School of Mines and Deep Digital Cornwall – a £4m project launched to unlock the underground environment.

With the resources beneath our feet, the region has the potential to be a flagship area for ‘climate-smart mining’ – offering a huge amount of potential for companies within the sector and attracting a range of ethical investment. With the mining industry already connected to circular economy approaches and with the history of innovation and learning to lead the way in practices globally, now is the time to take advantage of the next generation of industry happening in Cornwall.

If you want to know more, recently Cornwall Trade and Investment joined forces with the Department for International Trade to host an industry-wide live event showcasing the mining opportunities on offer in Cornwall. You can watch the full video here. Or you can download our mining investment information pack below

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