The Chief Operating Officer of the UK’s Green Lithium refiner has called on his country’s government to introduce tax credits to match the US Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) to boost the UK critical minerals industry.
Cameron Tonkin told BEST: “We can’t afford another Britishvolt saga.” His company is working on plans to build one of Europe’s first large-scale lithium refining and battery recycling plants in Teesside, north-east England.
Would-be battery maker Britishvolt went bust in January 2023 after failing to raise enough capital from investors or the government.
Tonkin welcomed last week’s Atlantic Declaration between US president Joe Biden and UK prime minister Rishi Sunak, which set out that their countries are to begin negotiations on a joint critical minerals agreement. This would be part of broad areas of co-operation including economic, technological, commercial and trade.
“The Atlantic Declaration is positive, but it’s only five points in a press release,” he said. He added it gave a good early signal but the devil will be in the detail.
The Department for Business and Trade (DBT) has been asked for comment and further detail of the upcoming negotiations.
UK-US negotiations will target an agreement covering cobalt, graphite, lithium, manganese and nickel. Extracted or processed in the UK, they would count toward sourcing requirements for clean vehicles eligible for the Section 30D clean vehicle tax credit of the IRA.
Tonkin said the timing of the Atlantic Declaration was good but added: “To be successful in the UK, we need a similar IRA or tax credit policies in place that make it attractive to investors to invest here.”
He said he thinks DBT is fully engaged. Tonkin and his team meet regularly with government officials. “One of the things we regularly talk about is the kind of funding, and not just letting the market decide. The government has to play its part in priming the market,” he said.
Green Lithium is seeking to raise £20 million ($25 million) in Series-A seed funding. He said investors pulled back in nervousness after the 2022 mini-budget of then prime minister Liz Truss’s government, but added they have now returned. The company has raised £6.5 million ($8.2 million) and is now targeting retail investors as well as institutions.
The Automotive Transformation Fund has granted £680,000 ($856,000) for a feasibility study and two further grant applications to the fund for research grants have been submitted. Planning permission is anticipated soon for the 60-acre site.
Adopting alkali leach processing technology and hydrogen in the fuel mix will help reduce carbon emissions – to 3.3 tonnes per tonne of lithium hydroxide produced. This compares to 16.2 tonnes typically produced in Chinese refineries, Tonkin said.
Green Lithium aims to be operational by 2026, but Tonkin concedes it might be 2027 before full capacity is reached. It plans to source its raw material from Australia. Commodities trader Trafigura will help source its raw materials and market its output of lithium hydroxide.
Its customers will include cathode manufacturers and electric vehicle manufacturers.
Green Lithium’s neighbour, Tees Valley Lithium (TVL) is aiming to become a lithium chemical processing hub, importing high value feedstock from around the world and supplying battery grade lithium hydroxide to Europe.
Its parent company Alkemy is building two linked refineries, in Australia and the UK. The Australian facility will refine spodumene concentrate into mid-stream chemical lithium sulphate through calcination and a sulphuric acid roast. It will then be shipped to the Teesside TVL refinery for conversion into lithium hydroxide through a hydrometallurgy process.
Photo: Cameron Tonkin calls on UK government to introduce tax credits to match the US Inflation Reduction Act to boost the UK critical minerals industry.
Credit: Green Lithium