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Imerys and British Lithium target UK battery-grade lithium carbonate milestone

Imerys and British Lithium have formed a joint venture with the objective of creating the United Kingdom’s first integrated producer of battery-grade lithium carbonate.

As part of the joint venture, Imerys will contribute its lithium mineral resources, land and infrastructure for an 80% stake, while British Lithium brings its bespoke lithium processing technology, its technical team and its lithium pilot plant for the remaining 20%.

As part of the JV, Imerys will provide a large lithium deposit it has delineated totalliong 161 Mt of inferred resources at 0.54% Li20 content, giving confidence of a life of mine exceeding 30 years, the companies said. A drilling program and prefeasibility study to flesh this out are currently in progress.

The proposed development will include a quarry, a beneficiation plant and a conversion unit co-located on Imerys brownfield site in Cornwall to produce high-purity lithium. The JV could eventually see Cornwall become the leading lithium hub in the UK, with target production of 20,000 t/y of lithium carbonate equivalent, enough to equip 500,000 electric cars per year, by the end of the decade.

Since 2017, British Lithium has carried out drilling and exploration on Imerys-owned land in Cornwall and developed a unique process and pilot plant to produce battery-grade lithium carbonate. It received financial support from Innovate UK, UK’s national innovation agency, and the Automotive Transformation Fund, a funding program to support the electrification of vehicles and their supply chains in the UK.

The partnership will benefit from Imerys’ existing mining footprint in Cornwall, its experienced teams and solid infrastructure, as well as its lithium expertise developed through its EMILI project in France. The mine will adhere to the highest social and environmental standards and follow the IRMA Standard – the most demanding global benchmark for responsible mining, Imerys says.

The transaction has been approved by the UK Government, under the National Security Investment Act protocol.

Imerys said: “This venture will reduce the UK’s and Europe’s dependence on critical raw materials imports, thus contributing to the achievement of the European and British climate change targets and the creation of the first fully integrated regional electrical vehicle value chain. The combination of this and the EMILI project in France would make Imerys the largest integrated lithium producer in Europe, representing more than 20% of the announced European lithium output by 2030.”

Today, Imerys employs 1,100 people across the UK, of which 830 are located in Cornwall, including five open-pit mine sites in Cornwall and Devon. The project will also build upon British Lithium’s entrepreneurial spirit and committed team.

UK Business and Trade Secretary, Kemi Badenoch, said: “This joint venture between Imerys and British Lithium will strengthen our domestic supply of critical minerals, which is vitally important as we seek to grow the UK’s advanced manufacturing industry and help create the jobs of the future. This partnership shows again that the UK remains an attractive destination for international investment and will boost economic prosperity, support green industries, and bolster our energy security – not only in Cornwall, but right across the UK.”

Alessandro Dazza, CEO of Imerys, said: “This acquisition is a milestone in Imerys’ journey to becoming a key partner in the energy transition. Building on our recent investment in the EMILI Project in France, we are uniquely placed to become a leading supplier of lithium in the UK and Europe. We look forward to unlocking the joint potential of British Lithium and Imerys to make Cornwall a successful lithium hub, building on its centuries-old mining heritage.”

Roderick Smith, Chairman of British Lithium, said: “After working closely with Imerys several years, the Directors, shareholders, and staff of British Lithium are delighted to formalise their partnership with Imerys and are confident that this alignment of interests will propel us toward continued rapid progress. This marks a key milestone for British Lithium, Imerys and the entire lithium battery industry, as they embark on a journey to establish a sustainable future for lithium production in the United Kingdom.”