Weardale Lithium is holding a community consultation event ahead of seeking planning permission to build a lithium extraction pilot plant.
The company has been trialling the effectiveness of multiple direct lithium extraction (DLE) technologies to extract lithium from geothermal groundwater in Weardale, County Durham.
The test scale facility would be located on the brownfield, former cement works at Eastgate, near Stanhope. It would involve groundwater being taken from existing high-specification wells to be transported via pipelines, negating the need for regular tanker movements on minor roads.
Lithium is a critical raw material for electric vehicle batteries, but no commercial lithium production or refining currently takes place in the UK or Europe. Lithium produced and refined in the UK offers cost advantages, supply assurances and an environmental premium over foreign suppliers.
The development of a pilot processing plant next to the wells ensures Weardale and the surrounding areas will receive the maximum economic benefit by ensuring processing is carried out on site.
Initially, it is estimated the scheme will create 20 to 50 on site jobs plus additional employment within the local construction sector and supply chains.
Scaling up to eventual commercial production could produce approximately 10,000 tonnes of lithium carbonate per year, creating around 125 jobs and generating an estimated £1bn of gross economic value for the region.
Extraction from geothermal brines via DLE processes has been assessed by third parties to be more sustainable than alternative lithium sources. It is a low-impact, low-carbon and low-water usage method of extracting lithium from brines which Weardale Lithium intend to augment using renewable energy sources.
The application site comprises four main parts:
- Two existing groundwater abstraction wells, south of the River Wear
- A new buried pipeline taking water from the wells to an existing gantry over the river.
- Pipeline gantry across the River Wear using the former conveyor bridge which previously took limestone from Eastgate Quarry to the former cement works. The pipelines will range from 75mm to 150mm in diameter.
- Construction of a pilot lithium processing plant on the former cement works site
The planning application is accompanied by comprehensive ecological, noise, air quality, highways, landscape, heritage, groundwater, surface water and flood risk assessments. For the first 12 months of the site’s operation, a Field Trials Stage will be conducted alongside the construction of the pilot plant.
Stewart Dickson, CEO of Weardale Lithium, said: “Engaging with our neighbours, supporters and stakeholders is a key part of delivering a project that will generate both jobs and economic prosperity in the area whilst securing the supply of domestic lithium, which is of strategic importance to the UK’s net zero strategy.
“We are keen to share our proposals with the community and look forward to welcoming visitors to the exhibition. We hope our application will gain their support and that the initial investment in lithium extraction can act as a catalyst to both grow the extraction process and attract other green technology operations to Weardale.”
To learn more about the first phase of the regeneration of the former Eastgate cement works, Weardale Lithium is holding a public drop-in exhibition at Eastgate Community Centre on Thursday 23rd November between 2pm and 7pm.