Sirius Minerals and the £2.4bn potash project
Sirius Minerals, who we’ve talked about before, has announced that it has entered stage two of its £2.4bn UK Potash mine project. But what exactly is Potash? And why is the North Yorkshire area of the UK the ideal place to build a mine project focused on it?
- Potash has roots, (yes) in agriculture, namely fertiliser. Potash is a mixture of potassium compounds and potassium-bearing minerals
- The name itself quite literally derives from “Pot ash” where wood ash was collected in metal pots. Wood ash is a rich source of potassium, which is one of the world’s three most important fertilisers.
- Potash was originally discovered in Germany in 1856, where potash mining was practiced only in Germany until the beginning of the 20th century
- Sirius Minerals’ mine will technically be for the exploration and development of polyhalite. Polyhalite is a hydrated sulfate of potassium, calcium and magnesium. Which is where potash comes in – the composure of polyhalite contains 14 percent potash
- Sirius has also trademarked the name “POLY4”, which is the name of its polyhalite products which delivers “four essential macro-nutrients and many vital micro-nutrients, in one simple and efficient fertilizer product.”
- The North Yorkshire area pinpointed for the Sirius’ Potash project is home to the largest, highest grade resource of polyhalite to be found in the world
- To put that into context, Sirius’ states that there is a Probable Mineral Reserve of 280 million tonnes of polyhalite
- An estimated 95 percent of world potash production is used as fertiliser, with the remaining five percent used in chemical and manufactured products
- Canada (particularly the Saskatchewan area) is currently the largest Potash producing country, with a production of 11 million Mt, closely followed by Russia with a production of 7.4 million Mt
- Total potash depotists around the world are believed to amount to around 210 billion tonnes, with 16 billion recoverable using current technology
- Potash can actually be found in certain foods. Potato, carrot, onion, apple, grapes, beans – all potassium rich foods. Its properties can help normalise blood pressure and regulate water balance
- Potassium is the seventh most common element occurring in the Earth’s crust, accounting for 2.4% of its mass.
- Global potash consumption is currently 60Mtpa, with this expected to grow to 70Mtpa by 2020 and 80Mtpa by 2025 according to Fertecon
- There are two methods that are commonly used for mining potash. The Underground Mining method and Solution method. Underground mining involves continuous miners or borers digging the ore, which is then transferred on the underground conveyor belts. Material is then hoisted to the surface for processing. The Solution method involves the injection of a brine solution into underground potash bearing seams. This dissolves the potash bearing minerals and this potash rich solution is brought to the surface for processing.
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British Lithium Pressured Due To Calls for Electric Cars
The British demand for lithium is set to reach 75,000 tonnes by 2035 as the government works towards their ban on the sale of high-polluting diesel and petrol vehicles within the UK. This comes as automakers worldwide continue to insist on the benefits electric vehicles will have on slowing the rate of climate change.
It is estimated that the UK will require 50,000-60,000 MT of lithium carbonate a year by 2035 for battery production to satisfy government needs. This is assuming production remains at 1.2 million vehicles per year, and the amount of lithium required does not increase.
British Lithium, which hopes to begin constructing a quarry to produce 20,000 MT of lithium carbonate a year in a $400 million investment, are not without competitors, both within the UK and abroad.
Competition For Lithium Rises In Europe
After only five years after its initial launch, Cornish Lithium is setting its sights on becoming a UK powerhouse in mining lithium, aiming to begin commercial production in under four years. Jeremy Wrathall, a former investment banker and current managing director of Cornish Lithium, had the future in mind when founding the company.
“In 2016, I started to think about the electric vehicle revolution and what that would mean for metal demand, and I started to think about lithium,” he said in an interview with AFP. “A friend of mine mentioned lithium being identified in Cornwall, and I just wondered if that was a sort of unrecognised thing in the UK.”
Lithium was first discovered in Cornwall around 1864 and has not been mined again since 1914 when it was produced as an ingredient in fireworks. Now, however, Cornish Lithium is reportedly in the testing stage to see if the metal can be produced commercially to meet the growing demand required for the electric car sector.
Despite Cornwall’s close historic ties to mining lithium, Wrathall insists that the project is purely commercial.
Cornish Mining Revival For Lithium Production
“It’s not a mission that drives me to the point of being emotional or romantic,” he says. “It’s vitally important that we do get this technology otherwise Europe has got no lithium supply.”
The European Commission has also stated their goal to end the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2035 to aid the environment. That being said, the majority of lithium extraction currently relies on power provided by environmentally damaging fossil fuels─a slight contradiction.
Alex Keynes, from the Brussels-based lobby group Transport & Environment, is adamant that mining for lithium should be done sustainably.
“Our view is that medium-to-long term, the majority of materials including lithium should come from efficient and clean recycling.
“Europe from a strategic point of view should be looking at securing its own supply of lithium.”
Despite growing competition from abroad, British Lithium Chairman, Roderick Smith, continues to place importance on the mining of lithium within the UK.
“Imagine what the UK economy would look like if we lost our automotive industry,” Smith says. “The stakes are high for the UK.”
Smith expects the UK to compete with other European countries to secure a lithium battery plant in the near future.