British Lithium has announced that a 13-tonne ore sample mined from its facility in the UK town of St Austell contains a “better than expected” grade of lithium, a key development in the company’s long-term goal of developing a lithium mining and processing facility in the region.

The company has been drilling in the St Austell area, in Cornwall, for the last two years, and the retrieval of a high-grade ore is the latest milestone for the company. In 2018, British Lithium extracted lithium carbonate from mica-granite mined from the region and was the first organisation to drill for lithium in the UK, which it did in 2019.

“The results are indicating a higher grade of lithium than anticipated, which is very exciting,” said British Lithium CEO Andrew Smith. “No other company in the world is currently producing lithium from mica and, given the increasing demand for batteries as the UK moves towards more sustainable technology, the work we are doing promises to have a significant impact on the local and national economy.”

These milestones are just the first steps in what the miner hopes will be a significant and long-lasting lithium project in the area. The miner aims to develop an integrated lithium mine, beneficiation plant, and refinery to produce 20,000 tonnes of lithium hydroxide a year. The mining of granite and the extraction of lithium carbonate from these deposits will be a key component of this strategy. The company announced that, in the wake of its recent encouraging exploration work, it expects to reach full-scale production in three to five years.

British Lithium has already invested considerably in the project, with development capital of over $1bn and a further $200m already spent on exploration work and feasibility studies, as it looks to help revive the British mining industry. Lithium is of particular interest due to its use in clean battery technology and electric vehicles, and British Lithium is optimistic that its project will help establish resource security for the British automotive industry, which is set to invest heavily in electric vehicles over the coming years.

“Our tests are suggesting a potential yield of 21,000 tonnes of battery-quality lithium carbonate a year, which represents about one third of what the UK would need for its electric revolution by 2030,” said British Lithium chair Roderick Smith. “Our preference is to use the strategic advantage of a UK supply of lithium to attract a battery plant to Britain as a customer; however, fast-growing demand from Europe could also be met from the UK.

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“The ultimate aim is to set up a lithium refinery that would supply lithium carbonate to the local automotive industry.”