Climate crisis: UK playing 'catch up' in global race to source metals for green tech

·3-min read

The UK is playing "catch up" in the global race to domestically source vital metals needed to help tackle climate change, according to the boss of a company exploring lithium reserves in Cornwall.

It's less than a decade until sales of new petrol and diesel cars are banned.

And across the world demand for metals vital for new green technologies - such as lithium in batteries for electric vehicles - is soaring.

The UK currently has no commercial lithium production and the industry is in its infancy.

Cornish Lithium is exploring two sites in Cornwall - one in hard rock and the other in geothermal waters.

Jeremy Wrathall, chief executive of the company, says he believes enough lithium could have been found in Cornwall to satisfy the UK's needs within 10 years.

But commercial production for Cornish Lithium is still several years away.

He said: "Europe and the UK have got a serious problem in supplying the chemicals that need to go into the electric vehicles.

"The penny has recently dropped with the UK government.

"We are way, way behind China. China has been planning this for years.

"They could see electric vehicles on the horizon. They have locked up all the supply chain they need.

"And that really puts Europe and the UK at a significant disadvantage. It's a hugely worrying picture."

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Most of the world's lithium currently comes from Australia and South America and is then shipped to China for processing for batteries.

The Faraday Institute, the UK's independent institute for electrochemical energy storage research, believes the UK will need around 75,000 tonnes of lithium carbonate per year by 2035 to satisfy its production needs.

And until the UK can find lithium closer to home imports will soar, raising questions about the supply chain and its environmental footprint, according to Professor Richard Herrington, head of earth sciences at the Natural History Museum.

He said: "The UK government has made this pledge to be net zero carbon by 2050 which is a really laudable goal, but we know in order to deliver that goal we need mitigating technologies - we need to change from burning carbon for our electricity and we need to stop burning hydrocarbons in our cars.

"It's inevitable you can't have the massive revolution in energy that we want without this mining that goes with it."

The International Energy Agency has warned supplies of critical minerals essential for key clean energy technologies like electric vehicles and wind turbines need to pick up sharply over the coming decades to meet the world's climate goals.

It said manufacturing the typical electric car uses six times the mineral inputs of a conventional car.

Sky News has launched the first daily prime time news show dedicated to climate change.

The Daily Climate Show is broadcast at 6.30pm and 9.30pm Monday to Friday on Sky News, the Sky News website and app, on YouTube and Twitter.

Hosted by Anna Jones, it will follow Sky News correspondents as they investigate how global warming is changing our landscape and how we all live our lives.

The show will also highlight solutions to the crisis and show how small changes can make a big difference.