There’s more than £800,000 of new money in the Cornish Lithium kitty now, following a rights issue conducted successfully by the company’s founder and chief executive Jeremy Wrathall earlier this month. He wanted to ensure that the company remained in a good position despite the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic and that work could continue unabated given recent encouraging results.
In the past Cornish Lithium has raised significant sums from crowdfunding, and it may do again.
But this time round the thinking was that if existing shareholders were happy to provide new funds to keep the company on the move and busy, now was not the time for a major expansion of the register.
Not that there isn’t plenty of interest, mind.
According to Wrathall there’s plenty, and it’s not hard to see why - barely a day goes by without an interested party emailing to express interest in investing should the company wish to raise futher finance.
After all, Cornish Lithium looks like it will be at the very forefront of a developing new UK industry: the manufacture of lithium batteries. This is no idle boast, either. The Prime Minister himself has pledged support to this nascent industry and, what with Brexit and the coronavirus, he has every reason to - a pessimist might argue that Britain has need of every single new industrial idea it can get.
Twas ever thus in the race for global economic predominance, of course, but the old dynamics are taking something of a new direction now. Globalisation is out, self-sufficiency is in. That means reeling back the supply chains that were revealed by coronavirus to be perilously over-extended.
In that context, the European Union hopes to make itself self-sufficient in the lithium battery supply chain, with major deposits like Cinovec to lean on. But a Britain outside of the EU will have to make its own way. Hence the increasing focus on Cornwall, and Cornish Lithium’s ongoing programme of works there.
As an operator, Cornish Lithium was able to avoid the worst of the coronavirus restrictions by the fortuitous scheduling of its various activities. A major programme of drilling and fieldwork had not long finished when coronavirus hit, and the company had been planning in any case a prolonged period of office-bound analysis to collate all the results, work out what they meant, and consider what to do next.
Now that that process of collation and consideration of recent drilling and sampling results is complete, the coronavirus restrictions have eased, the company is keen to get out into the field shortly and to follow-up on the success of its early campaigns. Now that it has new money in the bank it can proceed with confidence.
There are currently two separate areas of emphasis: brines, and hard rock. Initially Wrathall built the concept of the company around his insight that Cornwall contains significant brine deposits, and the subsequent drilling has demonstrated not only the accuracy of his original thesis, but has also gone a long way towards demonstrating that the brines contain enough lithium and flow at a strong enough rate to make them potentially economic to exploit.
“The brine drilling is complete for now,” he says.
“The two holes we drilled were essentially scientific holes, rather than production holes. We successfully extracted significant amount of fluid – more easily than we expected, and we’re getting an enormous amount of data back. We’ve almost got all of the geophysics that we recently conducted back and are currently building that data into our models. We also hope to get results back from samples taken from the nearby deep geothermal project in a couple of weeks. Now, we have to take stock as bbrine drilling is expensive. We will now focus on evaluating extraction techniques and hope to build a pilot-scale extraction plant on site as soon as possible."
The company is in the fortunate position of having plenty of bulk samples stored on its site in Cornwall and these will be the subject of much attention over the summer and autumn and will also, potentially, be put through a pilot plant before the end of the year, or early 2021
The thinking is that the company will produce a high-end product, ready for the end user, so that there’ll be no need to ship raw material to an intermediary for processing. Whether that high-end product will be a hydroxide or a carbonate or both has yet to be established, but as part of the process of working that out the company is already talking to technology vendors.
“We believe we can do that for a reasonable capital expenditure given the infrastructure that already exists in Cornwall,” says Wrathall.
In the meantime, the second area of focus, the potential to extract lithium from granite, will come into view. It’s on the hard rock granite potential that the company’s upcoming drill plans will focus over the next six months. A total of 41 holes were drilled into the hard rock earlier this year, and Wrathall describes the company as “very encouraged” by what it found.
“With the new money we will be getting back to drilling on the hard rock for the rest of the year,” he says.
Already, Cornish Lithium is able to see similarities between its hard rock deposits and other, more established projects like Cinovec. If it can establish those similarities, or at least comparable qualities, to a greater extent over the summer and autumn, then it will be able to count itself well satisfied.
This would put Cornwall firmly on the lithium map of Europe, when set alongside results already reported by another explorer in the region
Parallel success with the brines would cement Cornish Lithium’s position in the vanguard of Britain’s nascent battery minerals industry.