Potential ‘hotspots’ for lithium development across the planet could be discovered using satellites that detect changes in vegetation from space.
According to scientists working on a study that focussed on two areas in the English county of Cornwall, satellites can detect characteristics in vegetation and minerals on the surface, which when combined with geological data, could indicate potential locations for the discovery of lithium.
Experts from 11 organisations were involved in the study, backed by UK start-up Cornish Lithium and a grant of GBP850,000 ($1.1 million) from Innovate UK.
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.
Dr Cristian Rossi, principal Earth observation specialist at Satellite Applications Catapult, who led the study said: “This approach to lithium exploration which includes the estimation of multiple surface indicators has not been attempted before and may be highly applicable across the wider mining industry.”
“These are the first digital maps that display potential lithium hotspots for initial investigation and validation,” Rossi said. “We are now looking at how we can improve this new tool which is attracting international interest from major lithium producers worldwide.”
Cornish Lithium founder and CEO Jeremy Wrathall said: “The results of the study, and our collaboration with other project partners, has enabled our company to significantly advance our exploration programme and to better prioritise areas on which to focus our exploration for lithium bearing brines in Cornwall.”
Last year, Cornish Lithium said it had raised GBP1m from three international investors to kick-start moves towards drilling for lithium in Cornwall.