December 5, 2022

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UK’s first major lithium refinery chooses site

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A lithium-ion battery photographed at a Volkswagen factory in Germany. Lithium-ion batteries are crucial components in electric vehicles.

Jan Woitas | Picture Alliance | Getty Images

LONDON — A facility dubbed Britain’s “first large-scale lithium refinery” will be located in northern England, with project backers hoping its production will reach about 50,000 tonnes per year once it is operational.

On Monday, a statement released by Green Lithium on the London Stock Exchange’s website said the £600 million (about US$687 million) project is expected to take three years to build and is expected to be operational in 2025.

The refinery will be based in Teesport, a major port on Teesside. Green Lithium said its product would “feed into the lithium-ion battery supply chain, energy storage, grid stabilization and EV battery supply chain.”

In addition to its use in cellphones, computers, tablets and a host of other devices synonymous with modern life, lithium — dubbed “white gold” by some — is critical to the batteries that power electric vehicles.

The UK wants to freeze the sale of new diesel and petrol cars and vans by 2030. It will require all new cars and vans to have zero tailpipe emissions by 2035. The European Union, which left Great Britain on January 31, 2020, is pursuing similar goals.

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With lithium demand increasing, European economies are looking to strengthen their own supplies and reduce dependence on other parts of the world.

In a translation of her State of the Union address last month, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that “lithium and rare earths will soon outnumber oil and gas”.

In addition to security of supply, von der Leyen, who switched between several languages ​​in her speech, also emphasized the importance of processing.

“Today, China controls the global processing industry,” she said. “Almost 90%… rare earth elements[s] and 60% of lithium is processed in China.”

“Therefore, we will identify strategic projects along the entire supply chain, from extraction to refining, from processing to recycling,” she added. “And we will build strategic reserves where supply is at risk.”

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Back in the UK, Business Secretary Grant Shapps said Green Lithium’s refinery will “create more than 1,000 jobs during construction and 250 long-term, high-skilled jobs for local people once operational”.

“It also allows us to act quickly to secure our critical mineral supply chains, knowing that geopolitical threats and global events beyond our control can seriously affect the supply of key components, driving the adoption of electric vehicles in Britain might delay. ” he added.

News of Green Lithium comes after Britishvolt, another company looking to break into the electric vehicle sector, said it had secured short-term financing that would allow it to stave off administration for the time being. The company said its employees also agreed to a pay cut for November.

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