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Cornish Lithium granted rights to explore sea by Crown Estate


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London — Exploration firm Cornish Lithium as been granted rights to explore for the chemical in geothermal waters in areas off both the north and south coasts of Cornwall, the company said Jan. 6.

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The Crown Estate, manager of the seabed and much of the foreshore around England, Wales and Northern Ireland, granted the rights during its Minerals Licensing Round. The body, which pays its entire net revenue profit to the Treasury, works closely with the government, industry and stakeholders to optimize the potential of the seabed to create holistic value, including driving green growth, according to the statement.

As the world gears up for the green transition, lithium supply security has become a hot topic, alongside the significance of local supply chains. Lithium is a core ingredient in electric vehicle batteries. The UK currently imports lithium, and its environmentally responsible production in the UK would represent an important step forward in combating climate change.

Speaking to S&P Global Platts on Jan. 6, Cornish Lithium CEO Jeremy Wrathall was quick to distinguish the news from controversial deep sea mining.

"There will be no mining on the seabed. Only drilling into the subsurface," he said.

He also stressed that little development work is likely to happen for several years subject to extensive consultations and relevant planning permissions.

"The first four years alone will be desk-based research," he said.

The debate on the possibilities, and perceived consequences, of deep sea mining is ramping up and will be high on the agenda in 2021.

During a Responsible Mining Foundation webinar hosted Nov. 11, RMF CEO Helene de Villiers-Piaget said that, until the full ramifications of deep-sea mining are understood, a "moratorium" should be enacted.

John Howchin, secretary-general of the council on ethics of the Swedish national pension funds, said he was "neutral" on deep-sea mining, noting that "it's coming whether we want it or not."

Nick Everington, portfolio manager at the Crown Estate, said: "Lithium has an important and exciting role to play in helping unlock an electric economy and deliver the UK's commitment to net zero carbon emissions by 2050."

Everington noted that "this is a further example of the Crown Estate's role as managers of the UK's seabed to help unlock the sustainable and coordinated use of our world-leading marine resources."

'Great potential'

Wrathall added that "the opportunity to produce lithium from geothermal waters in Cornwall, using a low impact and environmentally responsible process, offers great potential for the establishment of a new industry in Cornwall."

The UK government may struggle to meet its ambitious 10-point sustainability plan without investment in and the construction of home-grown battery capacity, causing unease within the industry.

The 10-point plan announced by the prime minister aims to help achieve the UK's carbon emissions legally binding reduction goal of the country becoming carbon neutral, or having net zero carbon emissions, by 2050.

The UK government is targeting the end of sales of new gasoline and diesel cars and vans by 2030, 10 years earlier than previously planned, by backing car manufacturing bases in the West Midlands, the Northeast and North Wales.