All-UK partnership to deliver landmark commercial scale direct lithium extraction plant

Article by Kerry Hebden

Northern Lithium
Richard Morecombe, founder and chairman of Northern Lithium together with Chris Wyres, CEO of Evove

THREE companies from the north of England – Northern Lithium, Evove, and Sheers – have signed an agreement to build the UK’s first commercial scale direct lithium extraction (DLE) plant with the aim of delivering a domestic supply of lithium in the UK.  

Northern Lithium and Evove have already worked together to trial a process that uses advanced membrane filtration technology. The process produces battery grade lithium carbonate from UK saline brines with a reduced energy, water, and chemical footprint compared with normal extraction methods. Around 2 kg of the lithium carbonate at a purity level above 99.5% was produced at a pilot plant at Evove’s test centre in Widnes last August. 

Now that the commercial potential of Northern Lithium’s saline brines has been realised, the firm is planning to build a production site at Ludwell Farm, Eastgate, County Durham, and is targeting a commercial supply of lithium starting in late 2026. 

Using Evove’s advanced DLE technology, the same used in the trial, Northern Lithium will also work with process engineering experts Sheers, based in Darlington, to design and deliver a commercial scale UK-manufactured DLE plant. 

Northern Lithium said the success of the plant will allow the company to roll out subsequent production sites with Evove DLE across a large area of the Northern Pennine Orefield, County Durham, where it has secured key long-term mineral and land rights.   

Northern Lithium is targeting commercial production of up to 10,000 t/y of battery-grade lithium in northeast England within the next decade, to supply to UK gigafactories and the electric vehicle (EV) manufacturing industry.  

Nick Pople, managing director of Northern Lithium, said the company had come a long way in the last year having confirmed the presence of potentially commercially viable concentrations of lithium within the granite of the Northern Pennine Orefield. “We have also already successfully processed those brines at industrial scale with advanced DLE technology from Evove, producing battery-grade lithium carbonate,” he added. “We are now therefore delighted to take the next development step and create this all-UK partnership with Evove and Sheers in a landmark project in County Durham to deliver a first commercial scale DLE plant within the next three to four years.” 

UK domestic lithium supply

The UK currently relies on lithium imports from the likes of Australia and Chile. However, lithium produced in these countries tends to use up a lot of land while proving either energy intensive, or slow and water intensive. 

But now a handful of companies are on the verge of delivering a domestic supply of lithium for the UK, and with technologies deemed more sustainable. Cornish Lithium is pumping out natural lithium-rich geothermal waters at its DLE pilot in Cornwall, while Weardale Lithium has also announced the successful extraction of lithium carbonate from geothermal brines in County Durham. It says its process, developed by Watercycle Technologies, produces zero waste, is water neutral, and requires 95% less land than conventional lithium extraction processes. “All that will be left after operations are a few manhole covers,” explained Seb Leaper, CEO of Watercycle Technologies. 

Article by Kerry Hebden

Staff reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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