Tees Valley Lithium (TVL) has received planning permission to build a lithium refinery in Teesside. The refinery will be the largest in Europe and will supply critical metals to the ever-growing electric vehicle (EV) industry.
The refinery will be capable of producing both lithium hydroxide and lithium carbonate, which will be sourced from imported, high-grade feedstock from South America and lithium producers located in Australia.
Building a lithium refinery located in Europe will reduce the region’s dependence on China for critical metals. At present, China controls 90% of the world’s lithium refining capacity, but will soon begin to produce all of this domestically as part of the Carbon Neutral 2060 plan.
A key driver for TVL’s site selection at the Wilton International Chemicals Park is the ‘plug & play’ advantages of the site, which boasts a plethora of existing infrastructure and readily accessible utilities including water, gas, steam, and electricity. This will allow TVL to begin construction of the lithium refinery without delay.
How the lithium refinery will meet the demand for EVs
To meet demand for the switch to EVs in Europe, over 700GW of gigafactory capacity has been announced, with an annual projected demand of 650,000 tonnes for locally refined lithium chemicals.
The new lithium refinery is expected to produce enough lithium hydroxide to supply 100% of the UK’s forecasted demand by 2030. Furthermore, 35% of its total production will be available for export to other European countries and elsewhere.
Sam Quinn, Director of TVL’s parent company, Alkemy, stated: “We are delighted to have received planning approval, which allows us to quickly complete our engineering studies and to get on the ground and commence construction.
“The burgeoning demand from EV OEMs is highlighting the growing need for significant lithium refinery capacity in Europe. Being located in the Wilton International Chemicals Park with direct access to comprehensive infrastructure and services and being within the Teesside Freeport enables us to rapidly get into production and to supply customers in the UK and Europe.”
Ryan Hanrahan, Director and CEO of Wave International, added: “This approval is a significant milestone for the combined UK and European green energy industry, with the TVL refinery being the first merchant lithium converter to achieve full approval status in the region.
“With a secured site, full approvals, and a feasibility study, TVL are now an advanced project and a leader amongst their peer group.”
Addressing customer challenges
TVL is currently in advanced discussions with a number of offtake customers, including European gigafactories and electric vehicle OEMs. These customers are increasingly focused on price, transparency, and low embedded carbon when sourcing high-grade lithium products.
To address this challenge, the company plans to import high-grade lithium feedstock – in the form of technical-grade lithium carbonate and lithium sulphate – from spodumene producers in Australia. This will help to avoid a build-up of low-grade concentrates on the world’s shipping fleets, while also reducing waste.
By sourcing low-carbon feedstock and powering an electrochemical refining process with offshore wind – and green hydrogen supplied by energy multinational bp’s HyGreen Teesside project – TVL’s lithium refinery aims to supply its UK and European customers with the world’s lowest-carbon lithium hydroxide.
TVL has appointed Wave International, a specialist process engineering and project delivery company, as its lead engineering and technology partner. Wave has over twenty years of experience in the mining industry and boasts an excellent skillset in lithium refining.
Opportunities for Teesside
The lithium refinery project will enrich the North East of England, creating job opportunities and rich resources in a once neglected area.
Ben Houchen, the Mayor of Tees Valley, said: “The Tees Valley lithium refinery is yet another multi-million-pound project, creating good quality jobs on the Teesside Freeport. With plans now approved, this shovel ready project will create 1,000 jobs and should be up and running in just a couple of years.”
Frans Caljé, Chief Executive Officer of PD Ports, commented: “It’s absolutely fantastic to see more inward investment coming to the Tees Valley, this time in the form of the Tees Valley Lithium project.
“PD Ports welcomes any project that is going to generate real jobs and prosperity for our region, and we look forward to seeing the lithium hydroxide refinery brought to fruition to aid growing demand as we all work towards a more sustainable future.”