ERM to supply environmental impact assessment for UK lithium mine

05 September 2023 3 min. read
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Global sustainability consultancy ERM has secured a new contract to lead an environmental and social impact assessment of a potential UK site for mining lithium. The Trelavour hard rock mine project in Cornwall could help develop a domestic supply of the metal, which could be crucial to the UK’s net zero transition.

Cornish Lithium is a mineral exploration and development company. Building on Cornwall’s 4,000-year heritage of mining, the company looks to extract lithium in an environmentally responsible manner from both geothermal waters and hard rock.

The firm recently announced an initial £53.6 million funding package from a group of leading institutional investors led by the UK Infrastructure Bank alongside The Energy & Minerals Group and TechMet. The funding will enable the company to progress to a construction-ready state at Trelavour Downs, and to complete the engineering design work required to build a demonstration-scale geothermal waters extraction facility.

ERM to supply environmental impact assessment for UK lithium mine

The lithium extracted from hard rock in a repurposed china-clay pit at Trelavour Downs could generate £800 million of economic activity for the local economy, over the expected 20-year mine life. By producing around 8,000 tonnes per year of battery-grade lithium hydroxide, this could also help super-charge the UK’s efforts to transition to a zero-carbon economy. Lithium is a core component of the batteries which are being used to power everything from domestic appliances to electric vehicles, and electrical energy storage systems.

Extracting lithium is not without its downsides, though. While establishing a domestic supply would help get away from the ethical and human rights issues which have dogged the mining industry, there are also environmental impacts to account for. The extraction methods for lithium can be very energy intensive – leading to air and water pollution, land degradation, and potential for groundwater contamination. And while the process is still less intense for carbon emissions than fossil fuel extraction, lithium mining produces around 1.3 million tonnes of carbon annually, with every tonne of mined lithium equating to 15 tonnes of CO2 into the air.

To help Cornish Lithium find ways to mine the metal ethically and while minimising environmental impact, ESG consultancy ERM has been drafted in to lead an environmental and social impact assessment (ESIA) for the Trelavour hard rock mine. The scope of ERM’s work includes environmental baseline development and social impact studies alongside the full suite of technical studies needed to inform the ESIA and EIA processes.

Kate Harcourt, Cornish Lithium’s ESG officer, said, “We are pleased to appoint ERM to undertake these important studies, which will from an integral part of the Trelavour Project’s feasibility study. We have built up a great working relationship with the ERM team and look forward to strengthening this relationship with them as they support Cornish Lithium’s work to bring the Trelavour Project to a construction ready state.”

ERM will now develop the project’s ESIA to international standards, in parallel with the environmental impact assessment (EIA) required to secure planning consents for the hard rock mine. ERM’s work will help to enable the feasibility study required to secure the necessary planning and permitting consents for building and operating the commercial plant.

ERM’s Partner Lead for Capital Project Delivery Simon Randall added, “We are delighted that Cornish Lithium has selected ERM to support the Trelavour hard rock mine development. Our appointment reflects the breadth of ERM’s capabilities from national scale techno-economic studies through to detailed permitting for process plants. We look forward to applying our global expertise in successful ESIA delivery for other lithium mines to this exciting project, which will support the UK’s transition to net-zero whilst delivering substantial economic growth in Cornwall.”