Lithium deposit

First lithium refinery in the UK to be built in Teesside

Image credit: Foto 104669817 © Mathiasrhode |

Engineering services company Worley has secured a contract to support Green Lithium's plans to build the UK's first large-scale merchant lithium refinery in Teeside.

Worley has announced that it has commenced work on the first lithium refinery in the UK, which will be built in Teesside by Green Lithium. Once operational, the plant is expected to produce 50,000 tonnes of battery-grade lithium a year.  

Lithium is an essential material in battery manufacturing. However, Europe's current lithium-refining capacity in Europe doesn’t match the increasing demand for battery-grade lithium chemicals. According to the company, the Teesside plant will produce up to 6 per cent of Europe’s expected battery demand by 2030, providing enough of the material to produce one million EVs annually.

The new refinery is designed to supply low-carbon, battery-grade lithium chemicals to serve the growing European market for energy storage systems and electric vehicles (EVs) and in the process "facilitate decarbonisation objectives, green jobs and long-term economic prosperity".

Ross McPherson, senior vice president for chemicals, fuels and resources for EMEA at Worley, said the project was "a step towards meeting demand and accelerating local lithium production".

"Current lithium-refining capacity in Europe doesn't match the increasing demand for battery-grade lithium chemicals, which is projected to grow to 800,000 tonnes by 2030," he added.

Sean Sargent, chief executive at Green Lithium, said the new partnership marked an important step forward for the company's ambitious plans.

"Green Lithium is enabling our planet's transition to sustainable energy by increasing the supply of low-carbon lithium chemicals to meet increased global demand," he added. "Critically, Green Lithium will use a world-leading, sustainable and low-carbon refining process, which has an 80 per cent lower carbon footprint than traditional refineries in existing markets."

Worley said it will provide engineering services for front-end loading of various supporting components for the plant's technology system. This will involve developing the balance of engineering, supporting critical planning and permitting activities, general construction aspects and developing philosophy documents for control systems and automation.

"Collaboration in Europe could accelerate sustainable lithium refining," McPherson said. "This will help markets dependent on battery-grade lithium to secure reliable feedstock and build sustainable technology vital to the energy transition."

At the moment, there are no other lithium-refining plants in Europe, although a total of 35 lithium-ion production projects had been announced on the continent as of March 2022. Some of these include CATL’s in Germany; a second facility in Hungary from SK Innovation, and plants in Germany and France from Automotive Cells Company, a new company backed by Saft, Stellantis and Mercedes.

However, according to a plan put together by the European Chemicals Agency, lithium could be subjected to stricter regulation, based on studies that suggest a link between exposure and development problems, as well as reduced fertility.

In July this year, a huge fire in a London high-rise prompted firefighters to issue an urgent warning about the risk of fires involving the batteries of converted e-bikes.

The Teeside refinery is expected to be fully operational by 2025.

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