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What is Lithium?
Lithium is a vital component of “next-generation” batteries which will be used in electric vehicles and for the storage of renewable power. As a result of such developments, global demand for lithium is forecast to grow by around 400% by 2025. Lithium has now become a vital metal for technologies that enable a rapid transition towards a low carbon economy.
This research project focused on the development of new and innovative satellite-based techniques that have the potential to reduce the cost of lithium exploration substantially. Such remote sensing techniques can also reduce the environmental impact of exploration by enabling better targeting of prospective areas.
Experts from eleven organisations were involved in the study, which focused on two areas of Cornwall. The approach was to develop combinations of EO techniques which, when used together, could identify target sites for further work within the selected areas. Amongst other techniques, such as heat mapping, the team looked for potential indicators of lithium in vegetation cover by investigating its impact on plants.
Anomalies related to vegetation parameters such as health and temperature were correlated with rock alteration and the presence of geological faults. Using such techniques, the team was able to better predict areas that may host lithium bearing brines below the surface and to create a prospectivity map.
The team used data at different resolutions from Landsat, Sentinel-2, WorldView-3, GeoEye-1, ASTER, Sentinel-1, ALOS-1 and TerraSAR-X satellites, along with ground survey data from the British Geological Survey and radiometric and magnetics data.
Using the same data sets, the team has also developed a digital environmental baseline map to show priority habitats, flood risk areas and urban settlements to act as an environmental monitoring tool. The average cost of environmental monitoring and complying with environmental regulations for a mining operation is estimated to be around 5% of total project costs. The tool developed by the team could provide the independent data required for compliance and monitor changes in a cost-effective way.
We are very excited by the findings of this project. This approach to lithium exploration has not been attempted before and may be highly applicable across the wider mining industry.
The project had two distinct outcomes. It progressed the exploration activities associated with an indigenous UK lithium mine and it demonstrated the value of a satellite-based data tool for identifying potential mining sites from space, opening opportunities for satellite applications related to mineral exploration, environmental monitoring, transport and logistics, and day-to-day mining operations.
Both the exploitation of indigenous lithium, and the utilisation of satellite-based data in the mining industry have far-reaching positive impacts for the UK economy. Work carried out within this project has applicability to a wide set of stakeholders. A powerful application of this tool would be the environmental monitoring of mines throughout their life-cycle. This has huge potential value as an export capability for the UK businesses involved in the project, and work is now underway to understand the potential for this, with Bolivia a main target, as the largest lithium producing country in the world.
Cornish Lithium is delighted to have been involved in this ground-breaking study. The results have enabled our company to better prioritise areas on which to focus our exploration for lithium-bearing brines in Cornwall.
The Catapult Team
Principal Earth Observation Specialist
Satellite Solutions Architect