With help from Innovate UK EDGE, British Lithium has secured a £2.9m Innovate UK grant to build a pilot lithium extraction plant, accelerate its route to commercialisation and provide critical natural resources to boost the UK’s Electric Vehicle (EV) manufacturing industry.
Innovate UK EDGE has also delivered specialist IP support, helping to protect the company’s innovative extraction techniques currently under development.
British Lithium’s pilot plant will produce samples tailored to individual customers’ requirements and once tested and proven, the company aims to begin full-scale production of 21,000 tonnes of lithium carbonate a year within the next three to five years.
Access to high-quality lithium is projected to be a key factor in the international race to build EV battery gigafactories.
“America, China and Europe all desperately want to attract EV plants,” said Roderick Smith, Chairman of British Lithium. “The winners are going to be the EV producers and the losers will lose their car industries. In the UK, cars are our biggest export commodity and so economically speaking, nothing could be more important.” The stakes are certainly high for the UK; the Faraday Institute predicts that without domestic battery manufacturing, the UK will lose 114,000 existing automotive jobs by 2040. Conversely, if it can produce lithium batteries at scale, eight gigafactories will be needed by 2040, with automotive jobs growing from 186,000 to 246,000.
During last week’s PMQs, Prime Minister, Boris Johnson described Cornwall as the “Klondike of lithium” – referring to the 19th century Gold Rush in the Canadian city. The Government’s recent Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy prioritises the domestic extraction of lithium and acknowledges funding for British Lithium’s pilot plant as part of that commitment.
“We are delighted to have won Government recognition of our important work in Cornwall and the significant contribution we’ll be making to “building back better” and achieving zero carbon emissions.
“The results achieved so far have exceeded all expectations and we are now looking forward to expanding our operation to showcase what is possible – not just locally and nationally, but globally too. We’re very grateful for the help and support of Innovate UK.”
Andrew Smith, Chief Executive, British Lithium
Grant funding support from Innovate UK EDGE
In 2020, British Lithium began work with Innovate UK EDGE grant funding expert, Kim Howat, who highlighted two Innovate UK funding competitions and provided advice on their applications.
The company secured a £500,000 Smart Grant in 2020 followed by the £2.9m Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) grant awarded last week.
“The support was absolutely vital,” said Roderick Smith, “we knew nothing about the funding options out there and Kim was extremely helpful in making the case for why we should consider applying for Innovate UK’s Smart Grants and SBRI.”
Roderick feels that he would have struggled with the application on his own: “standard questions are limited to 400 words and I have trouble saying anything in less than 10,000! Kim explained the exam technique and critiqued our application, enabling us to reach a very high standard.”
“Innovate UK grants are famously competitive and I think there’s two main reasons why people miss out: either the project is not worth funding, it wouldn’t give back to the community, or the applicant can’t express their potential properly.
“Innovate UK needs to find the best opportunities to help fuel the economy and that’s where Innovate UK EDGE can be so impactful, ensuring those with the most potential can meet the criteria and express themselves properly.”
Innovate UK EDGE will continue to support British Lithium as it moves towards commercialisation, ensuring that this critical opportunity for Cornwall, the country and the climate comes to fruition.