A team of data scientists at the Satellite Applications Catapult is leading a new study, funded by Innovate UK, to see if it is possible to detect a lithium ‘fingerprint’ from space by imaging vegetation and minerals on the ground using satellites.
The data from this study will be integrated with geological information to create a ‘prospectivity map’ to help identify indicators of geological structures which may host lithium in waters (known as brines) deep below the surface.
The study is taking place in Cornwall where there are many intriguing historical accounts of brine containing lithium, some dating back to as early as 1864. Now that lithium has become a crucial material for the development of electric car batteries the lithium in Cornwall may represent an important resource. Lithium consumption is expected to grow rapidly over the next few decades as electric vehicles become mainstream. Additional demand is expected to come from power storage batteries that will be used to store electrical power harvested from renewable sources such as wind and solar.
The challenge posed by the study is to understand whether satellite techniques can assist in prioritising areas for exploration for the future production of lithium. Such techniques include the evaluation of geology and vegetation that might indicate the presence of structures bearing lithium-rich brines deep below the surface. The study explores how certain characteristics might appear on satellite images and how the processing of satellite Earth Observation (EO) data may assist exploration.
There are eleven organisations involved in the study, exploring four areas of research: geology, vegetation, fault detection and environmental monitoring of mining operations. Using the data from the project, the team will also develop a visualisation tool to show how EO and geological data can be integrated to develop software that can monitor the impact of a mine throughout its lifecycle.
The project has been funded through a grant of £850k from Innovate UK, the UK’s innovation agency and the team comprises experts from the British Geological Survey, Camborne School of Mines (part of the University of Exeter), Carrak Consulting, North Coast Consulting, Cornish Lithium Ltd, CGG, Terrabotics, Telespazio Vega UK, Geo Performa and Dares Technology.
Cornish Lithium Ltd. is leading the search for lithium in Cornwall and the results from this project are expected to expand the company’s understanding of the geological structures which are the main targets for where lithium may be extracted from in the future.
The project is due to have results by the end of March 2018.