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UK EV industry faces a 'bleak future' without gigaplants: Cornish Lithium CEO


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New York — The UK government needs to "step up" and give a boost to the UK's electric vehicle gigaplant ambitions, otherwise the country faces a "bleak" EV manufacturing future, was the view of Cornish Lithium CEO and founder Jeremy Wrathall Sept. 17.

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Fielding questions on a conference call the CEO told S&P Global Platts that, although his own project's success wasn't dependent on the construction of a UK gigaplant, it is an important pillar for future growth of UK PLC.

Cornish Lithium said in a statement Sept. 17 that initial results of preliminary sampling showed "some of the world's highest grades of lithium and best overall chemical qualities encountered in published records for geothermal waters anywhere in the world."

The initial assay results show lithium concentrations of up to 260 milligrams a liter, which are believed to be among the highest published grades of lithium in geothermal waters globally.

Based in the southwest of the UK, Cornish Lithium aims to be a low carbon lithium producer, a key ingredient in electric vehicle batteries, by pumping naturally occurring geothermal waters and filtering the chemicals out.

"Geothermal waters which contain lithium are very different from other occurrences of lithium in brine given that the same water can be used to generate zero-carbon electrical power and heat. As such these waters are rapidly becoming recognized as the ultimate ethical source of lithium," the statement said.

Low-carbon lithium extraction from geothermal waters could make Cornish Lithium a very compelling story for automotive manufactures seeking low carbon supply chains of battery metals.

As the world pushes for a sustainable future, the need for renewable energy and low carbon production methods are being thrust to the top of investors' agendas. Also, as the globe grapples with the coronavirus pandemic, local supply chains are also a hot topic.

One of the hardest hit industries has been the UK auto sector, also facing the possibility of a no deal Brexit.

Local supply chains essential

Wrathall, said the UK doesn't want to lose anymore auto-related jobs. On the subject of local supply chains, he said that it would be a good move to have a battery cell factory in Cornwall, to help process the developer's lithium.

"The UK faces a bleak future without gigafactories," he told Platts during the conference call.

He said that the government needs to step up even in these "very challenging times." So far his company has received part funding from the UK government, however there are industry concerns that not enough is being done to secure manufacturing in the UK.

One possibility for the UK to build out its EV manufacturing ambitions would be for foreign companies to invest in the sector, according to the Confederation of British Industry's head of energy and climate change James Diggle.

In conversation with S&P Global Platts on Sept. 16 Diggle said that there is a big question around domestic manufacturing, exacerbated by the pending Brexit process.

The auto industry, already struggling, has been further dented by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and related economic fallout. Diggle said the UK has a "strong" pedigree in high-end auto manufacturing.

UK autos tackle headwinds

"This is a difficult time for the sector, [it's] facing some significant headwinds," he added.

There are two new gigaplants in the pipeline for the UK, one from start-up manufacturer Britishvolt and another from AMTE Power.

One source said that he has concerns around the government's approach to funding such initiatives.

"I am worried that continental Europe is getting ahead of us, as governments there have frameworks to give huge cash injections to projects. The UK could get left behind, and that's not good for anyone. Especially the UK auto industry," the source said.

Europe, and particularly the UK, need to secure an EV battery supply chain to maintain a competitive edge in the sector, according to Britishvolt founder Orral Nadjari in a recent conversation with Platts.

Nadjari said that the coronavirus pandemic had created an opportunity for Britishvolt, as it highlighted the need for local supply chains.