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Is the Energy Capital of Europe about to add another string to its bow?

With decades of production of oil and gas, and more recent efforts greatly increasing infrastructure for renewable energy sources, Aberdeen is well established as the energy capital of Europe. From production of hydrocarbons, onshore and offshore windfarms, biomass plants, and wave and tidal energy production sources, to name a few, the ceiling for the energy producing capability of Aberdeenshire seems to raise ever higher.  

Now, given the recent searches by a North East mining company for cobalt, nickel and copper within surrounding farmlands, it appears that Aberdeenshire has even more to offer with respect to energy production.

With all three of these materials being vital components in the construction of motors and batteries of electric vehicles, the farmlands of Aberdeenshire may now also play their part in the future of the electric vehicle market. With demand for electrical vehicles at an all-time high, it is clear to see why many in the area may be keen to utilise this potential.

While none of these materials are currently produced in the UK, it has long been thought that Aberdeenshire does have potential to provide up to ten-years' supply of nickel, copper and cobalt. Previous surveys conducted in the 1970s and mid 2000’s had indicated that deposits were plentiful in Aberdeenshire; but at these times the price environment was different and electrical vehicle technology was not as advanced, so little was done to bring it to extraction. Now, in 2022, with booming electrical vehicle sales (in pursuit of moving away from traditional internal combustion engines), it appears that now may be the time to utilise Aberdeenshire’s resources.

The rock type of particular interest is gabbro, a coarse-grained igneous rock, similar to granite. This rock type, common across the North East of Scotland but rare in the rest of the country, can hold copper, cobalt and nickel; with the deposits of these materials in the Aberdeenshire gabbro being rich enough to make extraction viable. With the price of nickel, for example, recently topping £20,000 per tonne, and with demands for nickel, copper and cobalt only going to increase for the foreseeable future, the extraction viability will likely only increase.  

There are still many technological, economic and environmental factors that must be overcome to bring such an extraction project to fruition, but early indications have shown that mining for these materials in Aberdeenshire is worth further investigation.

As outlined above, the push for mining these materials in UK may also be driven by the fact that currently all three are only ever imported into this country; with the UK Government also publishing a Mineral Strategy encouraging more domestic production. At the moment though, the nearest copper mines to the UK are in Spain, Poland and Scandinavia; with nickel and cobalt also being mined in Scandinavia. Globally, the biggest producers of copper are in South America, cobalt in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and nickel in Russia and Indonesia.

Additionally, if electrical vehicles are to move towards solid state battery technology in pursuit of far greater range capabilities, demand for copper, nickel and cobalt will again greatly increase.

Therefore, it will be very interesting watching for technological developments in both electrical vehicles and mining/extraction techniques in the coming years, and what role Aberdeenshire may have to play.

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chemistry, climate change, commercial ip & contracts, energy & environment, mechanical engineering, patents, transport