Li4UK: Securing a domestic lithium supply chain for the UK

lithium-fluorine granite in polished thin section

A typical texture of a lithium-fluorine granite in a polished thin section of Georgia kaolinized granite from Cornwall. Zeiss AxioImager M2: petrographic images taken at 5x magnification in PPL (left) and XP light (right), image © Natural History Museum Li4UK team

 

The increasing demand for lithium

The Li4UK project is demonstrating the feasibility of producing battery-quality lithium compounds from lithium found in UK rocks and geothermal waters.

As electric vehicle production increases, the demand for lithium components is expected to grow exponentially to produce lithium ion batteries.

Most of the world’s lithium is produced in South America or Australia and shipped to China for processing into battery-grade lithium chemicals. There is currently no commercial lithium production in Europe.

Lithium-bearing granites from Cornwall

Our research team is untapping the lithium potential of the granites and geothermal brines in South-West England. The mineral system analysis carried out by the Li4UK team reveals regional and mineralogical diversity with granites, pegmatites, evaporates, coal and geothermal brines.

Fresh granite, Goonbarrow pit, Cornwall

Fresh granite, Goonbarrow pit, Cornwall

Museum specimen BM OR1395a

 Topaz granite

Topaz granite, Cornwall

Museum specimen BM OR3282

Tourmaline-topaz granite

Tourmaline-topaz granite, Goonbarrow pit, Cornwall

Museum specimen BM OR1395q

Li-mica granite

Li-mica granite, St. Austell

Museum specimen BM OR5709

Securing reliable supply chains for critical materials such as lithium 

The Li4UK consortium is addressing a critical missing link in the UK’s battery material supply chain. We are identifying processing technologies and possible sources of raw materials needed to develop a sustainable, domestic lithium supply chain.

The Li4UK project has increased awareness in both local and national government about the vital role that minerals will play in underpinning the UK’s clean growth and future of mobility ambitions.

Innovative lithium extraction

The technological challenge is to build on recent innovations in lithium extraction and ascertain if UK sources of lithium can be processed commercially into lithium chemicals suitable for batteries.

The Li4UK project

Assessing the feasibility of extracting lithium from domestic sources and examining the case for locating a lithium conversion plant within the UK in order to build a critical new industry for Britain.

The Natural History Museum leads the regional lithium assessment based on field sampling of most prospective sites and their mineral characterization.

  • Project Consortium

    • Project Lead - Wardell Armstrong International (WAI): Full service British technical mining consultancy with global expertise in the whole mine life cycle. Consortium management of a lithium-related processing project (FAME).
    • Cornish Lithium Limited (CLL): High-tech exploration for lithium. Involvement includes identification of suitable lithium resources in Cornwall, evaluation of economic feasibility for locating a lithium conversion plant in the UK and production of a road-map for future upscaling to commercial levels. As industry partner, CLL will help commercialise the opportunity.
    • Natural History Museum: Expertise in mineralogy and lithium chemistry/analysis that will ensure optimal processing routes are taken for lithium extraction. Will also identify other UK areas with lithium potential.

Using the Museum's collections to research lithium minerals

The world-class mineralogical, petrological and ores collections of the Museum are used by Li4UK researchers. 

The historic collections of the Museum stem from mining and sampling activities of past centuries. This legacy curated at the Museum gives insights into the wealth of lithium bearing rocks now often hidden underneath remediated mine sites

There are more than 100 known lithium-bearing minerals, but less than ten of them are currently economic to extract. 

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Spodumene ore from Keliber, Finland

Goncalo

Lepidolite ore from Goncalo, Portugal

Zinnwaldite from Cinovec sitting on a glass surface

Zinnwaldite from Cinovec, Czech Republic 

A researcher looking at a screen in a lab

Natural History Museum team member Dr. Alla Dolgopolova measuring Li4UK project samples at the electron microprobe camera SX100. Alla is measuring compositions of various lithium minerals which allows us to calculate the lithium content in each analysed grain.

Element maps for F, K, Ti, Al in Lithium mica

Element map for F, K, Ti, Al in lithium mica; concentration increase from blue to red. Element maps are used for mineral characterization to show mineral distribution in the studied rocks, element distribution across grains (core vs rim) and to provide insights into zonal mineral growth, crystallization and alteration processes, mineral intergrowth and impurities. 

Sample 5057: Kit Hill cupola (greisen and aplites), Cornwall

Images by Enrica Bonato; Jeol JXA-8530F Plus Hyper Probe (NHM London); microprobe working conditions: 15 kV, beam size 2 μm, 512x512 px.

FAME

The Flexible And Mobile Economic (FAME) processing technologies project aims to improve the efficiency and sustainability of ore recovery from low grade mineral deposits.