A major breakthrough has been made in the hills of County Durham in the race to fuel the next energy revolution.

Northern Lithium have joined forces with Evove to produce high-quality lithium carbonate from saline brines at industrial scale.

This key milestone for electric vehicles has been achieved using saline brines extracted from the Northern Pennine Orefield in Weardale, by Northern Lithium, based in County Durham.

The brines were processed at a specialist pilot plant using innovative new technology developed by Cheshire-based filtration experts, Evove.

Trials conducted at Evove’s new DLE Test Centre in August have so far produced around 2 kilograms of battery-grade lithium carbonate at a purity level above 99.5%, confirming the commercial potential of Northern Lithium’s saline brines.

Lithium is a critical raw material in the manufacture of rechargeable batteries, so the news will be welcomed by EV and power storage industries that must otherwise depend on imported lithium, mainly from Asia, Australia and South America.

A secure domestic supply of battery-grade lithium will provide significant environmental and economic benefits, as well as reduce the UK’s exposure to global supply chain disruptions.

It is forecast that the UK will need up to 80,000 tonnes of Lithium Carbonate Equivalent per year by 2030 and as much as 135,000 tonnes per year by 2040.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Lithium Carbonate produced at industrial scale from Northern Lithium's UK brines at Evove's centreLithium Carbonate produced at industrial scale from Northern Lithium's UK brines at Evove's centre (Image: Press release)

“The quality and quantity of lithium carbonate that has been produced at industrial scale is incredibly exciting,” said Nick Pople, Northern Lithium Managing Director.

“Our goal is to reach commercial production of between 5,000 to 10,000 tonnes of battery-grade lithium per year from several production areas across the Northern Pennine Orefield over the next decade. The material produced by Evove’s DLE membrane filtration technology confirms the purity of our brines and ability to deliver a commercially viable solution. It is a huge step forward and gives us the green light to quickly begin scaling up activities.”

Chris Wyres, Evove CEO, said: “We have developed a strong partnership with Northern Lithium, enabling us to move rapidly to deliver this significant milestone. “Northern Lithium’s brines are some of the easiest and cleanest saline brines we have tested to date. This would make them relatively cheap and straightforward to process on a commercial scale, meaning low operating and capital costs.”​

Northern Lithium Founder and Chairman, Richard Morecombe, added: “We can now move straight from this pilot to full-scale production. It’s vital that the UK secures a sustainable supply of lithium from domestic sources as quickly as possible, and it now looks certain that the North East and North West will both play a key role in that quest.”

The two companies are already working on a commercial-scale processing plant to allow Northern Lithium to deliver full-scale battery-grade lithium production at its first County Durham site, whilst expanding exploratory drilling activities at other locations across the Northern Pennine Orefield.

Established in 2017, Northern Lithium is a privately-owned mineral exploration and development company focused on delivering a secure domestic supply of lithium using sustainable extraction and production techniques.