Cornish firm unveils plans for UK's only lithium mining operation
Cornwall looks set for a mining revival amid plans to tap into huge reserves of precious metal lithium in what could put the UK at the forefront of a potential £70 billion global market.
Lithium - dubbed "white petroleum" - is used in the rapidly growing market for electric cars and rechargeable batteries in everything from mobile phones to cordless vacuums.
Mining company Cornish Lithium wants to use new technology to extract lithium from hot spring brines in the granite deep underground in Cornwall, which would make the county the UK and Europe's only major source of the valuable metal.
The firm announced that it has secured a mineral rights agreement with Canada's Strongbow Exploration and Mineral Exploration and has also reached agreement with significant landowner Tregothnan Estates to carry out exploration for lithium across Cornwall.
It hopes the move will put Cornwall "back on the map" as a mining centre and lead the UK into an exciting market.
The company believes the exploration project would be the "largest, single, unified mineral exploration programme in Cornwall's history".
Jeremy Wrathall, chief executive of Cornish Lithium, said: "We believe the potential benefits of developing a lithium industry in Cornwall will be significant for the county and for the UK as a whole.
"We believe that this is a hugely exciting opportunity to put Cornwall back on the map as a mining centre as well as develop a new industry in the UK."
The lithium market is expected to quadruple to £70 billion by 2020, with demand driven by the dramatic switch towards electric cars across the world.
German car giant Volkswagen has said it wants up to 25% of its sales to be electric vehicles by 2025.
The potential for the market has seen the price of lithium more than double over the past 18 months and is now worth between 10,000 US dollars (£8,114) and 18,000 US dollars (£14,606) a tonne.
Most lithium is produced in South America, Australia and China, but the UK Government has earmarked lithium as a metal of strategic importance to the country.
Mr Wrathall, 53, who owns Cornish Lithium with his wife, is hoping to raise £5 million to start initial exploration tests, with around four or five well drills expected to be set up under the agreement, which covers a large area centred around Camborne, Redruth and St Day in Cornwall.
It could lead to "significant" new jobs in the county and help revive its once enormous mining industry.
Mr Wrathall added that extraction of lithium is very clean and environmentally friendly, while also offering the prospect of generating power through geothermal energy.