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MEI Online: Commodities: Metallic Ores: Lithium: Latest News: September 12th 2017


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:: A Celebration of Cornish Mining


On Thursday September 7th Barry Wills spent the day at an interesting conference at Heartlands, between Camborne and Redruth, in the heart of the old tin and copper mining district. The conference, which marked the centenary of the Cornish Chamber of Mines and Minerals, was well attended by over 100 delegates, mostly members of the Cornwall Mining Alliance.

A view of the future of mining was presented by short talks by five young lecturers who have recently joined Camborne School of Mines (CSM), including Penda Diallo, who commenced her lecturing duties at CSM only two days ago! Although she spoke for only 5 minutes, on the increasing importance of social issues for global mining opportunities, she put her points over very impressively and it is clear that she is going to be a great asset for the school.

Cornwall was once the world's biggest producer of copper and tin, and the last tin mine to close, in 1998, was South Crofty, just across the road from Heartlands, which ended 400 years of continuous copper and tin production. Canadian company Strongbow Exploration is now committed to dewatering and redeveloping the mine, which they hope to bring into full production in late 2020 or early 2021. A year ago (posting of 19 August 2016) I and many others were very sceptical about a revival of mining at South Crofty, mainly because we had heard it many times before without anything coming to fruition. But now it really does look like this will happen; Strongbow has invested a lot of capital into this venture and has already run successful trials to dewater the mine, and, crucially, treat this water before discarding into the nearby Red River ( so called because of the contained hematite from the old mine tailings). A full water treatment plant is expected to be on-stream next June.

Owen Mihalop of Strongbow gave an excellent presentation which inspired much confidence in the project. When South Crofty closed in 1998 the main use for tin was in the plating industry to produce 'tin' cans but now it has an important use in electronics, being alloyed with indium in touch screens for instance, and so can be regarded as a "High-Tech" metal. It is also now regarded as a strategic metal, as Asia, mainly China and Indonesia, account for 65% of world tin production, and there are very few tin mines now in the Western world. So all looks good for the go-ahead; planning permission has been granted for the surface plant, and the resources are certainly there, with an estimated 45,000 tonnes of tin in ore grading around 1.8%, giving an expected mine life of 8 years, but with much potential for expansion once dewatering is finished and further exploration can be carried out.

The new mine will bring jobs and prosperity to a fairly depressed area of Cornwall, and many local companies will benefit, not least Holman-Wilfley, a major supplier of shaking tables, represented at the conference by sundowner regular Dave Goldburn!

All is looking good too for Cornish Lithium, focussed on the opportunity to extract lithium from 'geothermal brines' that occur throughout a large area of Cornwall. Evaporation plays a major part in treatment of lithium brines, but new technology is helping to make other options more viable. Cornish Lithium CEO, and former CSM student, Jeremy Wrathall showed how it may now be possible to extract lithium from this source given recent advances in drilling, and extractive technologies such as reverse osmosis, ion-exchange and membrane technology, the latter being announced this week by International Lithium as a viable alternative to evaporation, used in arid countries such as Chile, Australia, and Nevada in the USA. The "new industrial revolution", the ending of the internal combustion era and the rapid adoption of electric cars and power storage batteries (posting of 30th August) is driving a significant increase in demand for lithium which has seen prices triple over the past two years.

After lunch Nick Wilshaw, of Comminution '18 sponsor Grinding Solutions Ltd, presented "Cornwall - a centre of mining and processing innovation" showing that he is passionate about promoting the quality and volume of innovation in the industry that comes out of Cornwall.

Dr. Tony Batchelor, of Geoscience Ltd, the guru of geothermal energy in Cornwall, showed how systems generating electrical power can be built economically in Cornwall, the first system being currently developed at the United Downs Deep Geothermal Energy Project. It was particularly good to congratulate Tony on his award this week of a Fellowship of the Royal Academy of Engineers.

All in all a good day, and the future looks bright for major mining revivals in Cornwall.




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