Weardale Lithium Limited, an innovative natural resources company based in County Durham, UK is pleased to announced that it has successfully extracted lithium from geothermal brines following the completion of laboratory scale Direct Lithium Extraction (‘DLE’) test-work with multiple technology providers, including the production of a sample of lithium carbonate.
Having successfully secured a grant from the Advanced Propulsion Centre (APC) Automotive Transformation Fund (ATF), Weardale Lithium has been trialling the effectiveness of multiple direct lithium extraction (“DLE”) technologies in extracting lithium from the geothermal brines found in the existing boreholes at Eastgate, County Durham. All trials produced very positive results with elevated results of lithium extraction and recovery rates.
Notably trials with Manchester-based, Watercycle Technologies Limited produced lithium carbonate at laboratory scale using their proprietary Direct Lithium Extraction and Crystallisation (DLEC™) process. The DLEC™ process selectively removes lithium ions from complex brines using mixed matrix hollow fibre adsorption membranes followed by concentration, polishing and crystallisation stages.
Lithium is a critical raw material utilised in the production of electric vehicle batteries. In order to accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles and meet net-zero targets, the UK needs a secure supply of lithium as there is currently no commercial lithium production or refining in the UK or Europe. Consequently, this is a significant milestone as it advances the possibility of producing domestic lithium and in turn advancing an integrated battery-supply chain industrial hub in the North East of England. Lithium produced and refined in the UK will confer transportation cost advantages, supply assurances and an environmental-premium over foreign suppliers.
Extraction of lithium from geothermal brines via DLE processes has been assessed by third parties to have higher sustainability credentials over alternative lithium sources. It is a low-impact, low-carbon and low-water usage method of extracting lithium from brines which Weardale Lithium intend to augment using power from renewable energy sources.
This milestone enables Weardale Lithium to progress its step-wise plans for scaling up lithium extraction trials and supports the investment decision for the construction and operation of a DLE pilot-demonstration plant for test-scale production of lithium. The modular pilot-demonstration facility will be located on the brownfield, former cement works at Eastgate. Commercial production of approximately 10,000 tonnes of lithium carbonate per year is being targeted which has the potential to directly generate around 125 new full-time, highly skilled jobs. At commercial scale, Weardale Lithium estimate that £1bn of gross economic value could be generated for the North East region.
Stewart Dickson, CEO of Weardale Lithium, said:
“The supply of domestic lithium is of strategic importance to the UK’s net zero ambitions and production of high-value batteries for electric vehicles.
“We have taken a significant step forward in establishing that the naturally occurring geothermal brines are amenable for lithium production and validated a number of direct lithium extraction processes. We will now accelerate and scale-up the testing of increased volumes of brine towards first production.
The grant from the APC has been hugely valuable in establishing this positive proof of concept and accelerating test-work to enable us to make the investment decision for the construction and operation of a DLE pilot-demonstration plant for test-scale production of lithium.
Whilst there is still much to do, we have made significant steps towards being able to generate a domestic supply of lithium in the North East that will support vehicle electrification in the years to come.”
Dr. Seb Leaper, CEO of WaterCycle Technologies said:
It’s great to be working with Weardale Lithium and being the first company to produce lithium carbonate from its brines. The net zero transition is fundamentally impossible with existing supplies of critical minerals yet traditional modes of extracting them are themselves environmentally damaging. At Watercycle we have developed a process that produces zero waste, is water-neutral and requires 95% less land than conventional lithium extraction processes. All that will be left after operations are a few manhole covers and so the natural beauty of the Weardale region will be preserved for future generations as well.”
Julian Hetherington, Director, Automotive Transformation, APC said:
“I’m delighted that the ATF was able to support Weardale Lithium’s Feasibility Study evaluating extraction and production of critical lithium supplies from UK resources centred on a disused brownfield site. Projects such as this are vital in securing upstream supply to support the UK’s forecast demand of over 97GWh of automotive batteries by 2030, and could support a significant proportion of the forecast 57,000tonnes per annum of UK lithium carbonate needs by that time.”
Source: London Stock Exchange