Imerys British Lithium is focused on selected mining jurisdictions that are characterised by significant geological potential and where its team have extensive experience and expertise in exploration or developing mining projects.
Imerys British Lithium does not invest in countries with excessive sovereign risk or unattractive mining sector legislation, or where ethical sourcing cannot be guaranteed. We will always maximise the employment of local people to benefit from their experience and to ensure maximum benefit to the community.
Imerys British Lithium executives have direct operating experience in the United Kingdom, Europe, Africa and Australia, and are most excited about the potential in the UK. The UK has one of the lowest levels of sovereign risk in the world, ranking 9th out of 190 in the World Bank’s ease of doing business ranking.
The geology of UK is complex and varied, with both igneous and altered sedimentary rocks combined with extrusive volcanic rocks. This geological diversity has given rise to a very wide range of minerals occurring in the United Kingdom, very few of which are currently mined.
The United Kingdom has a rich history of mining, yet exploration and mine development have been neglected since WWII, with no new metalliferous mine being successfully built in the UK for 45 years. UK coal production peaked in 1913 at 287 million tonnes from over 1,400 mines, yet on 21 April 2017 for the first time since the Industrial Revolution, Britain went a full day without using coal to generate electricity. The most common minerals now won in the UK are relatively low-value bulk sand, gravel, stone, limestone, gypsum and clay.
Mining of non-ferrous minerals, particularly copper, tin, lead and zinc began in the UK during the Bronze Age. Copper was mined in Wales from 2,200 BC and later, lead and copper attracted the Romans to Britain. The Romans introduced iron tools and mined galena from deep mines in Scotland and Wales, from which they refined lead, tin and silver. The widespread availability of coal and iron in the UK was an essential enabler of the Industrial Revolution of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. With large quantities of important minerals available and easily accessible in the UK, the economy grew rapidly. In Cornwall alone, mines have produced tin, copper, iron, coal, tungsten, arsenic, zinc, manganese, silver, molybdenum, cadmium, fluorspar, gold and china clay.
The UK maintains a high level of exploration and mining skills and continues to educate geologists and engineers at prestigious institutions such as Camborne School of Mines yet many of these seek work overseas or in academia. Groups such as the Cornwall Mining Alliance and Cornish Chamber of Mines promote the availability of local consultants and contractors, however, exploration in the UK remains at a very low level.
The whole of Europe accounted for just 5% of global mineral exploration expenditure in 2016, a third of that spent in Africa. There appears to be a widespread belief that mineral resources can no longer be discovered and developed in the UK because of high costs and environmental restrictions. Imerys British Lithium believes there are now significant opportunities in UK to discover larger, lower grade deposits than could be exploited in the 18th and 19th century, at a higher level of environmental performance than previously possible.
Large-scale mining and modern processing can economically extract minerals that were not previously economic, safely, and with improved protection of the environment and community. New deposits could be found near old, narrow veined high-grade mines or in unexplored areas. Modern environment controls, surveys, management and remediation techniques can ensure that mineral production does not harm the environment, and can, in fact, restore areas previously affected by mining.
Local awareness of the future importance of mining was shown by Cornwall Council who in 2013 compiled a Minerals Safeguarding Development Plan setting out the areas of minerals and infrastructure to be safeguarded against development that might inhibit future exploitation.
There are some encouraging signs of a renaissance in UK mining.
In 2016, the Australian company Wolf Minerals Limited opened the world-class Hemerdon tungsten and tin mine in Devon. It is the world’s second-largest producer of tungsten and was the first metal mine built in the UK in 45 years. The company has experienced significant support from the local community and Government, however closed in 2018 for technical reasons.
In 2016 Strongbow Exploration, now Cornish Metals, received full permitting for the $120 million redevelopment of the South Crofty tin and copper mine in South Cornwall, a mine that had previously operated for over 400 years.
In June 2015, the Park Authority voted in favour of allowing another Australian company Sirius Minerals PLC to construct the world’s largest potash mine on the North York Moors National Park. The mine, now owned by Anglo American PLC, expects to create 2,500 jobs in an area that had lost its previous mining industry and contribute £2.5 billion to GDP annually.
Cornish Lithium Limited has assembled a large portfolio of mineral rights in Cornwall and has begun exploration for lithium rich geothermal fluids.
Elsewhere in Europe, Imerys British Lithium’s team have been involved in the evaluation and process development and feasibility studies of the Cinovec lithium and tin mine development in Czech Republic, which hosts Europe’s largest known lithium deposit.
In Africa, there are over 1.2 billion people in 54 different countries, with a combined economy as large as France. The legislative framework, government functionality, availability of infrastructure and other factors differ widely between those countries. In Imerys British Lithium’s direct experience, commonly used rankings such as World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business and Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index are wholly inappropriate for assessing the personal, financial and reputational risks of developing a major mine in any country. First-hand local experience, time in-country dealing with the community and government and employing locals are vital to making an independent and objective assessment of jurisdictional risk. Imerys British Lithium’s team have direct operating experience in a number of African countries including République du Congo, South Africa, Liberia, Morocco and Algeria.
Australia is a major producer of a large range of minerals and possesses a well-developed base of technical and operating skills. The market is however well served by highly able entrepreneurs and mining professionals, with ready access to capital markets. Imerys British Lithium will continue to access Australian skills, technology and equipment, but is unlikely to invest in exploration or mine development in the country.