Brexit Or Not, Cornwall Determined To Lead EU Green Recovery

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If Cornwall was its own nation, it would be almost entirely surrounded by water, so it’s no surprise that the leaders of this unique land mass semi-attached to England are looking to pepper the Celtic Sea with floating wind turbines for a green recovery from the COVID-19 crisis. However, marine energy is not the only clean tech at play for Cornwall. If all goes according to plan, energy storage is also in the mix, and that could have widespread implications for a COVID-19 recovery in the EU and beyond.

green recovery Principle Cornwall floating wind
Cornwall eyeballs green recovery with massive floating offshore wind scheme and lithium extraction, too.

More Offshore Floating Wind Turbines For A Green Recovery

The Cornwall floating wind turbine angle goes at least as far back as 2012 with the launch of a feasibility study. Fast forward to earlier this week, and what should pop into the CleanTechnica mailbox but a press release from CIoS LEP, the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership, explaining how the Prime Minister’s 1-gigawatt floating offshore wind pledge would foster a green recovery for the local economy.

“1GW of floating offshore windfarms in the Celtic Sea could support 3,200 jobs in the South West and Wales and £682m of spend in the local supply chain by 2030, powering hundreds of thousands of homes,” explained CIoS LEP, based on an economic impact report issued last January.

With the notable exception of Scotland, CIoS LEP also notes that the Celtic Sea is the only place in the UK where floating wind turbines are feasible at scale, so there’s that.

Green Recovery Already Taking Shape In Cornwall, Thanks To US Taxpayers

Even as the COVID-19 crisis gathered steam last spring, Cornwall’s green recovery began to take shape. On March 19 (okay so technically still winter but who’s counting), CIoS LEP announced a joint venture between France’s Total and the startup Simply Blue Energy to develop floating wind turbines in the Celtic sea, beginning with a 96-megawatt demonstration project called Erebus.

Erebus will be located at a depth of 70 meters, deploying the Windfloat® platform developed by the US firm Principle Power.

If you’re thinking that could give US taxpayers partial bragging rights to Cornwall’s green recovery, that’s a pretty good guess. Principle Power has been on the CleanTechnica radar since 2009, when the US Department of Energy provided $750,000 in funding for the company to tweak its floating wind turbine platform to accommodate wave power.

We’re not sure where that experiment went, but it’s small potatoes compared to what DOE has in store for floating wind turbines nowadays.

Just last summer, DOE tapped Principle Power for a $3,750,000 award to help upend the world of floating wind turbines by contributing to the agency’s ATLANTIS initiative, which is aimed at developing “radically new designs” that push the cost of floating turbine technology down far below today’s levels.

What they’re talking about is relying less on large, bulky platforms that are typically used to support floating wind turbines, and relying more on next-generation control systems that adjust the turbines to stay upright under changing wind and wave conditions.

ATLANTIS launched in 2019 with the aim of reducing US dependence on fossil fuels, which is kind of funny considering how enthusiastically President* Trump courted the coal vote during the 2016 election cycle, but not so funny if you’re a coal worker out of a job.

For that matter, DOE has its sights set on next generation energy storage technology that will knock fossils out of the power generation market and the transportation sector, and it just launched a new green hydrogen partnership with Denmark that will deal a finishing blow.

Oh well, you get what you pay for.

Floating Wind Is Just The Beginning

Where were we? Oh right, Cornwall! If all goes according to plan, 96 megawatts is a drop in the bucket for floating wind. CIoS LEP director Steve Jermy is already eyeballing 3 gigawatts in the Celtic Sea by 2030.

Principle Power uses “globalizing floating wind” as its tagline, so its Erebus technology could end up floating all over the Celtic Sea and the world, too.

That’s not the only Cornish initiative with an eye toward the global green recovery.

CIoS LEP is also engaged in a lithium project that could impact the global energy storage and electric vehicle markets.

“Cornwall is pioneering deep geothermal energy to tap the heat in granite deposits five kilometres beneath the earth, and is looking at how lithium can be extracted from deep geothermal brines for use in battery technology to help drive the electric car revolution,” CIoS LEP explained in a press release.

CIoS LEP has already dedicated £4m toward building the first geothermal lithium recovery pilot plant in Europe, with funding through the UK Getting Building Fund.

Lithium Recovery For A Green Recovery

For those of you new to the topic, lithium is the main ingredient in lithium-ion battery technology, which is currently the energy storage technology of choice for electric vehicles as well as stationary systems.

The problem is that most of the world’s main lithium supplies are concentrated in a handful of countries, which makes the other countries nervous.

The idea of improving technology to extract lithium from brine has been kicking around for a while, and last January reporter Signe Hansen over at GeoDrilling International took a long look at the Cornwall project.

“With the global demand for lithium forecasted to exceed current production rates in 2022, the industry is hard at work developing not just more efficient but also more environmentally friendly methods of extraction,” Hansen noted, drawing attention to a recent report on water contamination at lithium brine operations in Argentina, Bolivia and Chile, as well as the environmental impacts of hard rock lithium mining in Australia.

As described by Hansen, Cornwall has been sitting on a gold mine ever since 1864, when lithium-rich geothermal brine was discovered in hot springs deep within its granite bedrock.

The emerging generation of brine extraction technology is more environmentally friendly than previous versions, and the firms Cornish Lithium and Geothermal Engineering Ltd. have been tasked with scaling up one of them and applying it in Cornwall — just in time for the green recovery to hit big.

Loosely speaking, the plan involves piggybacking lithium production onto a geothermal power plant, with the aim of producing “zero carbon” lithium.

“Cornish Lithium is exploring the potential for producing zero carbon lithium from geothermal waters across Cornwall, for use in electric vehicles (EVs) and grid battery storage of renewable energy,” enthused Cornish Lithium in a press release last August.

“Cornish Lithium believes that the lithium contained within these ‘hot springs’ has the potential to supply a significant amount of the UK’s requirement for this critical metal over the next few decades,” the company added.

What About The US?

Stay tuned for more on that. Meanwhile, not to be outdone the US is also pursuing environmentally friendly lithium brine extraction, with a significant input of taxpayer help through DOE.

Last summer, DOE’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory ran down the role of US taxpayers in fostering a domestic “Lithium Valley” in California and elsewhere out west.

“While the U.S. has not been a big player in the world’s lithium market, that could change if companies can develop technologies to extract what is estimated to be an immense amount of lithium in the western U.S., including Arizona, Nevada, and California,” Livermore observed.

Speaking of a green recovery, that initiative dovetails neatly with California Governor Gavin Newsom’s new executive order banning the sale of new gasmobiles in the state.

Newsom immediately drew a sharp rebuke from the Trump administration, which is hardly surprising. However, if the Trump track record on saving coal jobs is any indication, it looks like the effort to save gasmobile jobs is doomed to die on the vine.

As for the green recovery, Newsom’s order aims to bounce new clean tech off the COVID-induced disruption of the transportation sector and accelerate California’s transition to a carbon neutral future, meaning that California will need more lithium for more EV batteries electric vehicles among other new clean tech.

Game on!

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*Developing story.

Image (screenshot): Floating offshore wind turbine courtesy of Principle Power via YouTube.

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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