Industrial mining for materials for electric vehicles is typically thought of as something that goes on in developing nations, and not in places like the United Kingdom. However, thanks to growing tensions between the US and China (currently the world's largest producer of these minerals), Reuters reports that the British mining industry is on the rise.
The British Isles have a long, rich history of mining starting back in the Bronze Age, continuing through the Roman invasion and right on through to modern times. Tin mining, for example, was a major industry in the southwestern region of England known as Cornwall but fell out of favor when the prices for the metal crashed in the 1990s.
Now though, tin prices have skyrocketed with the increasing demand for electric vehicles, and geopolitical instability has made opening Cornwall's centuries-old tin mines an attractive proposition once again. Not only that, but new satellite imaging technology being used for the first time has reportedly found evidence of highly valuable lithium deposits near the Cornish tin mines, making them even more attractive to industry.
"We need to ensure the secure supply of the technology metals and critical minerals," lawmaker Pauline Latham, who heads a parliamentary mining group, said in a statement to Reuters. "This is necessary with China owning the majority of the market and the potential of a global trade war between China and America."
Interestingly enough, it's not British-owned mining consortiums getting in on the new metals boom on UK soil. These firms prefer to work at a much larger scale to drive overall costs down and alleviate the risk that comes along with smaller projects. Among the six or so companies looking into the Cornwall area are Australia's New Age Exploration and Canada's Strongbow Exploration, both companies with exceedingly cool names.
Strongbow is currently raising the $110 million in capital that it needs to begin work at Cornwall's South Crofty mines. Given that the mines have sat dormant for decades, there is a lot of preparation that needs to happen on-site before actual mining can begin in 2021, notably the removal of vast quantities of water that have accumulated over the years.
The South Crofty site under development by Strongbow closed in 1998 after nearly four centuries of continuous operation when tin prices fell to just $5,000 per ton with a global demand for around 200,000 tons per year. Now though, prices have more than quadrupled, and demand has increased to 350,000 tons thanks mostly to its use in nontoxic electronics solder and lithium-ion batteries.
It will be interesting to see if the situation that created this UK mining resurgence allows it to survive when pitted against larger-scale operations elsewhere in the world as well as markets that seem to fluctuate rapidly.