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Cornish Lithium aims to secure sustainable UK supply chain

London — The UK and Europe both need battery supply chains, from mine to manufacturing, in order to make the electric vehicle revolution a carbon-neutral success, Cornish Lithium CEO told S&P Global Platts Tuesday.

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The battery business is leaving a hefty carbon footprint, with ore being dug up in South America and Australia and then shipped thousands of miles to be processed in China. But as consumers and investors become more environmentally savvy,so too does the need for companies to make sure they are on top of their game, CEO Jeremy Wrathall said.

Part of this includes making a supply chain closer to home, where possible powered by renewables, he added.

Cornish Lithium, currently a developer with eyes on becoming a producer in around five years, believes it is well positioned to address such Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) concerns and create a business that not only powers the EV revolution but also operates on a low C02 emission framework, Wrathall said.

"The carbon footprint caused by shipping ore thousands of miles needs to be addressed," Wrathall said, adding that Cornish Lithium will operate on new technology whereby geothermal water is "filtered" for lithium using modern Direct Lithium Extraction (DLE) technology.

Wrathall said ESG is possibly the most important topic these days and that often talks with investors focus not on how much money a company is making, but rather what is its ESG strategy.

Last week, Platts reported that Cornish Lithium had completed a GBP1.4 million ($1.7 million) fund raising via Crowdcube in an attempt to make a sustainable lithium supply chain in the UK.

Skirting traditional avenues for raising investment cash, Cornish Lithium has enlisted 1,200 new stakeholders via thecrowdfunding platform. Many of these stakeholders are based in Cornwall in the southwest of England.

The move is believed to be the first successful crowdfunding campaign by a British mineral exploration company, offering a role in securing strategic UK mineral supplies.

Wrathall said that this represented a new route, with traditional avenues starting to be troublesome not helped by current market conditions.

"This [crowdfunding] allowed us to connect to an audience we never had before," he said, noting that it made the whole process more personal. "Knowing who your crowd is, is of huge significance [in this day and age]."

Raising funds for lithium projects hasn't been helped throughout 2019 as the price has been hammered lower by a variety of factors.

"The US/China trade war is the biggest problem, [and] EV sales have not been as good as they could be," the CEO said.

However, it is widely recognized that the EV movement is coming and that when it does it will require a lot of high grade lithium.

Also, the less money being invested the less metal further out, which could create a bull scenario, according to sources.

"There's definitely a bullish story coming, the problem currently is for companies that are in production now or about to go into production. We're around five years away, when things will likely be much more positive," Wrathall said.

On the testing subject of Brexit, Wrathall was bullish his own story.

"We're Brexit-proof, if we do or don't we still need to create new industry in the UK," he said.

He said he hopes that, with the large-scale of mining rights that Cornish Lithium holds, and the potential for a UK battery supply chain, the company could create "significant" jobs in the area.

The UK's opposition Labour Party recently pledged to invest GBP1.8 billion in collaboration with private investors tobuild three factories to produce electric batteries, in Stoke, Swindon and south Wales, and would invest GBP500 million infour reprocessing plants to reprocess cobalt and other minerals used in battery production.

-- Ben Kilbey, ben.kilbey@spglobal.com

-- Edited by James Leech, james.leech@spglobal.com