Europe’s first large-scale lithium refinery will be in UK

10 November 2022 | Muriel Cozier

There are currently no lithium refineries in Europe and some 89% of the world’s lithium processing takes place in East Asia.

Europe’s first large-scale lithium refinery is set to be located in Teesport, Middlesbrough, UK with the UK government backing the company behind it, Green Lithium, with a grant of more than £600,000 through the Automotive Transformation Fund (ATF). The government’s Business Secretary Grant Shapps made a visit to the site to announce the new development.

The 50,000-tonne-per-year-refinery will produce enough lithium hydroxide to enable the production of more than 1 million electric vehicles each year. Green Lithium has said that without local supply the UK’s automotive sector would struggle to meet the European Union’s ‘Rules of Origin’, which would result in tariffs on exports of electric vehicles to Europe, which is the UK’s largest export market. Once the facility is complete it will provide 250 skilled jobs, giving a boost to the UK government’s ‘Levelling Up’ agenda.

There are currently no lithium refineries in Europe, and some 89% of the world’s lithium processing takes place in East Asia. There is growing concern that critical minerals are at high risk of supply disruption due to the complexity of supply chains and volatile markets. Projections indicate that demand for critical minerals will increase at least four-fold by 2040.

During early 2022 Green Lithium said that it had validated its production process, making battery-grade lithium products using sulphate-free and acid-free processes and creating only inert mineral co-products. The company collaborated with the ATF to complete the laboratory testing. Green Lithium added that it is maximising its renewable energy input using heat recycling, and introducing hydrogen.

This latest development at Teesport follows the UK government’s July 2022 Policy Paper setting out the country’s ‘first ever critical minerals strategy’, detailing plans to secure supply chains by ‘boosting domestic capability in a way that generates new jobs, wealth, attracting investment and playing a leading role in solving global challenges [alongside] international partners’.

July also saw the US government issue a request for information on the development and implementation of a $675 million Critical Materials Research, Development, Demonstration and Commercial Program. This will address vulnerabilities in the domestic critical materials supply chain.

Canada’s Government has gone down the route of partnering with Volkswagen and Mercedes to secure its battery and mineral supply chains. Announcing the partnership at the end of August, Canada’s Government used its 2022 budget to set out proposals for investing C$3.8 billion to support development and implementation of the country’s first Critical Minerals Strategy. The European Commission used 2020 to set in motion its critical materials supply chain strategy.

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