Geothermal Engineering Ltd (GEL) is moving forward with a trial of a pioneering lithium extraction plant at its United Downs geothermal site in Cornwall.

The pilot plant will use Direct Lithium Extraction (DLE) technology to recover lithium from the geothermal water and will be developed in collaboration with Cornish Lithium Ltd.

Lithium Extraction Plant

We all use lithium in electronic devices, however, we tend not to think about where it comes from and if the extraction process causes any damage to the planet. With the ever-increasing move to electric vehicles, not just domestic cars, lithium is in greater demand than ever before.

Lithium was discovered in Cornwall in 1864 in the hot underground (geothermal) fluid when a sample was taken from a tin mine for analysis. During the Geothermal well testing at the United Downs site, GEL also had samples of the fluid from circa 5km below the surface analysed and were excited to find that the concentrations were some of the highest in the world.

GEL are working in collaboration with Cornish Lithium on a joint venture called Geo Cubed, to trial Direct Lithium Extraction (DLE) technology, using the geothermal water from the deep wells at the GEL United Downs site. The UK Government has invested in the project through the Getting Building Fund which supports the £4m collaboration between the two companies.

DLE technology is in its infancy around the world, however, successful extraction has been reported. DLE is environmentally friendly and once the lithium has been extracted the geothermal fluid is deposited back underground to re-heat. The project will design, procure and commission a pilot plant at the United Downs Deep Geothermal Project site. The aim is to demonstrate that lithium hydroxide, a key component of lithium-ion batteries used in electric vehicles, can be produced in Cornwall from naturally occurring geothermal water with a net zero carbon footprint.

Domestic production of this critical metal is vital for the UK to deliver its zero carbon and clean growth ambitions and the co-production of lithium with geothermal heat and power from the same geothermal source is an exciting opportunity for GEL and Cornwall.