An extraordinary breakthrough has been made among the hills of Weardale that could have long-reaching implications for Teesside as a centre of energy technology.

For the first time, lithium carbonate has been produced from geothermal brines at a County Durham site.

Successful tests and extraction of lithium represents a step forward in the UK’s ambitions to produce a domestic lithium supply chain to help fuel a huge rise in the use of electric vehicles.

Having successfully secured a grant from the Advanced Propulsion Centre, Weardale Lithium has been trialling the effectiveness of lithium extraction technologies. All trials have now produced 'very positive' results with elevated results of lithium extraction and recovery rates.

Last year Alkemy Capital Investments formed Tees Valley Lithium to develop the UK’s first lithium hydroxide monohydrate (LHM) processing facility at Wilton International within the Teesside Freeport.

TVL has already signed an MoU with Weardale Lithium as a potential feedstock supplier from its lithium project in the North East, so news of positive tests with Manchester-based, Watercycle Technologies will be a huge boost to their plans.

Lithium is a critical raw material utilised in the production of electric vehicle batteries. In order to accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles and meet net-zero targets, the UK needs a secure supply of lithium as there is currently no commercial lithium production or refining in the UK or Europe.

Stewart Dickson, CEO of Weardale Lithium, said: “The supply of domestic lithium is of strategic importance to the UK’s net zero ambitions and production of high-value batteries for electric vehicles.

“We have taken a significant step forward in establishing that the naturally occurring geothermal brines are amenable for lithium production and validated a number of direct lithium extraction processes. We will now accelerate and scale-up the testing of increased volumes of brine towards first production."

This significant milestone advances the possibility of producing domestic lithium and in turn advancing an integrated battery-supply chain industrial hub in the North East. Lithium produced and refined in the UK will confer transportation cost advantages, supply assurances and an environmental-premium over foreign suppliers.

Extraction of lithium from geothermal brines has been assessed by third parties to have higher sustainability credentials over alternative lithium sources. It is a low-impact, low-carbon and low-water usage method of extracting lithium from brines which Weardale Lithium intend to augment using power from renewable energy sources.

This milestone enables Weardale Lithium to progress its plans for scaling up lithium extraction trials and supports the investment decision for the construction and operation of a DLE pilot-demonstration plant for test-scale production of lithium.

The modular pilot-demonstration facility will be located on the brownfield, former cement works at Eastgate. Commercial production of approximately 10,000 tonnes of lithium carbonate per year is being targeted which has the potential to directly generate around 125 new full-time, highly skilled jobs. At commercial scale, Weardale Lithium estimate that £1bn of gross economic value could be generated for the North East region.