UK Set to Launch Geothermal Electricity Plant and Extract Lithium in Cornwall
The developer planning to launch the UK’s first geothermal electricity plant in Cornwall is also looking to extract lithium, as the region’s mining industry experiences a revival. Geothermal Engineering Ltd (GEL) aims to raise £600mn to build multiple sites and diversify into lithium production by 2030. In the initial round of funding, GEL plans to raise debt and equity between £100-200mn, with the objective of producing at least 1,000 tonnes of lithium at its flagship United Downs site. GEL also intends to produce geothermal power at two additional locations in Cornwall.
Geothermal power is generated by using hot water from deep underground to create steam that drives a turbine, resulting in clean power. GEL aims to develop five geothermal power plants by 2030, providing a total capacity of 25 megawatts of electricity, 100 megawatt hours of heat, and 12,000 tonnes of lithium. This would be sufficient to power 70,000 homes and 250,000 electric cars.
The fundraising effort is being led by Nomura Greentech, as the UK turns towards geothermal power as a stable, low-carbon emission energy source. GEL’s projects were the first geothermal developments to secure fixed-price contracts for electricity in the government’s recent subsidy auction.
However, geothermal power and lithium extraction pose challenges due to the high cost of drilling and the low flow rate of brine required for power generation and lithium production. GEL aims to deliver electric power to the grid by the fourth quarter of 2024, making it the first in the UK to do so. Presently, geothermal power in the UK is primarily used for heating purposes.
The company plans to produce approximately 100 tonnes of lithium per year by late 2024, increasing to 1,000 tonnes by 2026. The UK’s electric car industry is estimated to require 80,000 tonnes of lithium by 2030.
GEL has discovered lithium concentrations of 340 parts per million, which is relatively low compared to the world’s best brines for lithium in Chile. However, it is among the highest concentrations in Europe. The feasibility of extracting lithium from the brine at such depths and high temperatures is still being assessed.
GEL is considering partnering with Koch Industries or Puritech for lithium extraction technology. The success of this project could contribute to the UK’s goal of achieving greater lithium independence.
Overall, the launch of the geothermal electricity plant and lithium extraction project in Cornwall marks a significant step towards sustainable energy production and the UK’s transition to cleaner power sources.