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Cornish miners hope to profit from the shift to electric cars

IN THE MIDDLE of the 19th century copper-miners at Wheal Clifford, now the site of picturesque ruins not far from Redruth in Cornwall, chanced upon waters rich with lithium. At the time there was no commercial use for the metal. The underground springs were a nuisance they had to work round. These days lithium is an essential component of the batteries that drive electric cars, and deposits across Cornwall are attracting prospectors. Locals hope for a revival of the county’s mining industry, two decades after its last metal mine closed.

Two companies with different approaches are investing. Cornish Lithium plans to extract the metal from brine it will retrieve by drilling wells. It is building a pilot plant a short walk from Wheal Clifford that will be ready within 18 months, says Jeremy Wrathall, its boss. British Lithium, a competitor, says it will get its product by crunching up rocks from a quarry it wants to dig outside St Austell. Roderick Smith, the company’s chairman, says that hole will be “big but not gigantic”, in an area that has already been scarred by china-clay works. Both teams talk of starting commercial production in three to five years.

Global demand for lithium is expected to increase five-fold in the next 15 years, as petrol and diesel cars give way to electric ones. At present most of it comes from...

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