Article Source: IMechE A mine in Cornwall. Satellites could help find lithium reserves deep underground (Credit: iStock)
A satellite project will try to find underground lithium in Cornwall ahead of a massive projected jump in demand as consumers embrace electric cars.
A team from the Satellite Applications Catapult will lead the Innovate UK-funded study, which will see if it is possible to detect a lithium “fingerprint” from space by imaging vegetation and minerals on the ground.
Demand for the soft metal is predicted to grow rapidly in coming years as alternatively-fuelled vehicles become mainstream. Electric cars with lithium-ion batteries are set to lead the way, beating hydrogen fuel cells or other types of batteries.
Praised for its high charge density, lithium could also be a key storage material for the burgeoning renewable energy industry.
“Quite simply, there’s not enough supply to meet the demand, and the demand is increasing quicker than the supply is. Much, much quicker,” Simon Moores from Benchmark Mineral Intelligence told Investing News.
The new project will combine satellite data with geological information to create a “prospectivity map”. The map could help identify geological structures that may hold lithium in brine deep below the surface
“Lithium has significant strategic importance to the UK economy and we hope that the funding will accelerate understanding of the potential to extract lithium in Cornwall,” said Jeremy Wrathall, CEO of search leader Cornish Lithium. “We believe that techniques developed from this study will prove of great interest to the mining industry globally given the growing importance of Earth observation techniques as an unobtrusive exploration tool worldwide.”
Innovate UK provided an £850,000 grant for the work, which also involves the British Geological Survey, Camborne School of Mines at the University of Exeter, Carrak Consulting, North Coast Consulting, CCG, Terrabotics, Telespazio Vega UK, Geo Performa and Dares Technology.
The study is expected to have results by the end of March.