The growing demand for ethically sourced metals could lead to the revival of tin mining in England, an industry that has been dormant for two decades.
CNN reported that Strongbrow Exploration, a Canadian firm, is planning to reopen the South Crofty Mine in Cornwall, England. That mine was shuttered 20 years ago after English tin was no longer competitive on the world market.
If the mine is brought back online it would revive an industry that has thousands of years of history in the region.
“The ethically sourced aspect of the high tech world today is a very prominent issue, certainly in tin,” Richard Williams, chief executive officer of Strongbow Exploration told CNN. “There's a real push from end-users and investors to ensure that there's a clean chain of supply.”
Strongbrow is looking to reopen the mine by 2021.
Tin is considered the glue of the technology world. Used as solder in circuit boards of many consumer electronics and as an additive in batteries, it's a critical component in smartphones, electric vehicles, and 5G technology. Global tin consumption increased by more than 2.5 percent last year, and growth is expected to continue, according to the International Tin Association.
“So you're going to see a growing demand for the use of tin,” Williams said. “And what better way to avoid the concept that you're sourcing tin from potential areas of conflict or areas where you have child exploitation than to mine it here in Cornwall.”
If it reopens, South Crofty would become the only working tin mine in Europe (excluding Russia) or North America.
In order to bring the mine back online, Strongbow will need to survey and drain hundreds of miles of tunnels. The company will also face staffing challenges, and will need to recruit hundreds of people to work underground, which could be a tough ask in an area where many people have moved on to office jobs and employment in the service and tourism industries. However, Cornwall is still training mining engineers and geology experts at the Camborne School of Mines in Penryn.
“There are many ex-graduates who came from Camborne, actually trained at South Crofty, and now ply their trade around the world,” Williams said. “But many of them still live in Cornwall and I'm sure many of them would like to come back and work at South Crofty rather than travel internationally.”
Strongbow Exploration, which is also exploring the potential for lithium extraction in Cornwall, said the mine will create 275 jobs in the area. The fall in the British pound since the Brexit referendum in 2016 means Cornish minerals could once again compete on global markets.
“In our minds, this is Brexit-proof,” Williams said. “One of the points that we put forward to Cornwall council and the UK, in particular, is that you can't move a tin deposit.”
Even if tin mining doesn't return to Cornwall on a grand scale, the tourism inspired by the county's industrial past should continue to provide a boost to the economy. About 4.5 million visitors flock to the peninsula each year, and the number visiting historic mines is increasing — in part thanks to the BBC period drama Poldark and the tin coast's designation in 2006 as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Photo: Headgear at Geevor Tin Mine, one of many closed tin mines in England. Shutterstock