Weardale Lithium will extract lithium from groundwater deep under the Dale in the first phase of regeneration of the former Eastgate cement works.
Using existing, permanent, high specification groundwater wells, one of which was sunk nearly 20 years ago and the other nearly 15 years ago, Weardale Lithium are seeking planning permission to establish a pilot lithium processing plant at Eastgate.
By building the pilot processing plant at Eastgate, groundwater from the existing wells can be transported by pipeline without the need for regular movements of tankers on minor roads.
The development of a pilot processing plant, next to where the groundwater is abstracted, ensures that Weardale and the surrounding areas maximise the economic benefit that the lithium extraction can deliver, more so than if the groundwater was just abstracted and taken further afield for processing.
The initial investment that the lithium extraction will bring will act as a catalyst to allow the extraction process to grow and to attract other associated lithium and green technology operations to Weardale, creating long term and sustainable jobs.
The application site is broken down into four main parts:
- The two existing groundwater abstraction wells, south of the River Wear;
- A new buried pipeline to take water from the existing wells to the existing gantry over the River Wear;
- Pipeline gantry across the River Wear using the former conveyor bridge that previously linked the Eastgate Quarry with the former cement works site; and
- The construction of a pilot lithium processing plant on the former cement works site;
Initially the Pilot Plant application will create 20 to 50 jobs on site and additional jobs in the local construction sector and supply chains.
PLANNING – RED LINE BOUNDARY
THE EXISTING GROUNDWATER EXTRACTION WELLS
Referred to as “BH1” and “BH2” in the application proposals, these wells were drilled in 2004 and 2010 respectively.
From the outset these wells have been designed to a high standard, with a wide diameter high grade metal casing down to a significant depth. This is unlike much narrower and temporary exploratory boreholes which can be drilled.
These wells have been monitored and tested repeatedly providing data about the quality of the groundwater beneath the site.
Weardale Lithium have undertaken testing of the groundwater sourced from these established wells and have confirmed high levels of lithium and relatively low levels of contaminants are present in the water which makes the lithium extraction process easier than other brines.
BH1 as shown on the images below will be used for groundwater abstraction. Due to the high quality of this existing well, minimal works are needed. Due to the wide diameter of the well, a pump will be installed below ground level within the well itself, and a small amount of supporting infrastructure (e.g. power supply) will be installed at the well head.
All required supporting infrastructure installed at either the BH1 or BH2 sites will be contained within new small-scale buildings. These buildings will be designed to appear from the outside as traditional style structures that you would expect to see in this part of Weardale. This will be achieved by using traditional materials for the walls (e.g. locally sourced stone) and slate for the roofs.
BH2 will be used to return the processed groundwater, which has had the lithium removed, back into the ground.
Additional pumping equipment which will support the flow of water from BH1 to the Eastgate site north of the river will also be installed at BH2.
GROUNDWATER TRANSPORT – PIPELINE AND GANTRY
Pipelines will be installed below ground level to take the abstracted water from BH1 to the processing plant, this will remove the need for road going water tankers to use the minor roads in Weardale.
The pipelines will be modest in size (75mm to 150mm in diameter) and will be insulated. The groundwater when abstracted is naturally warm at approximately 30oC, by insulating the pipe it allows this natural, geothermal heat energy to be used at the Pilot Plant for things such as space heating.
The pipeline trench will include two pipes, one taking water away from the wells and one returning water. The pipelines will cross agricultural fields before joining the C74 to the west of Ludwell. The pipelines will then be buried beneath the highway until they connect with BH2 and the gantry over the River Wear.
The existing gantry over the River Wear will be used to transfer water to and from the Eastgate site on its northern bank. The gantry was previously used to hold a conveyor that took limestone from Eastgate Quarry over the river to the former cement works site.
Surveys have been undertaken on the existing structure and some minor repairs will be needed before the pipelines can be installed.
Permanent planning consent is being sought for the works proposed at BH1 and BH2 and the pipelines connecting them to the former cement works site.
THE PILOT PROCESSING PLANT
Once the pipework is on the south side of the River Wear, the groundwater will be directed to the Pilot Plant. The Pilot Plant will house the lithium extraction technologies that will be used to recover and remove lithium and other elements from the groundwater.
Once processed, the groundwater will be then either returned to BH2 or discharged into the River Wear.
Due to the depth at which the groundwater is taken (circa 1000m below ground level), the water has degree of natural salinity to it. This salt will be removed through standard desalination techniques before it is safely discharged into any surface water course. A separate water discharge permit for this activity would be needed from the Environment Agency before this occurred. All elements extracted, either lithium or waste (e.g. salt, high salinity wastewater) will be taken from the site sporadically via the A689 to appropriate disposal facilities.
Initially for the first 12 months of the site’s operation a Field Trials Stage of operations will occur alongside the construction of the Pilot Plant. This initial time limited stage will be used to further refine the technologies that will be employed to extract the lithium.
Red line boundary
PILOT PLANT VISUALS
SUMMARY OF ENVIRONMENTAL EFFECTS
The planning application that is currently being prepared will be accompanied by comprehensive ecological, noise, air quality, highways, landscape, heritage, groundwater, surface water and flood risk assessments.
Landscape and visual impact
Only the BH1 site lies on the boundary with the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the remainder of the site is located outside the boundary of that designation although it is still within an Area of High Landscape Value.
The existing Eastgate site is well screened by mature trees alongside the A689 and the River Wear. These tree belts will be retained and will screen the proposed operations from longer distance and close up views.
The dark skies in Weardale are important and the design of lighting on site will ensure no light overspill into the surrounding areas.
Comprehensive ecological surveys have been undertaken on the site and in its immediate surroundings for over a year.
The former cement works site has relatively low ecological value due to past uses but thorough assessments have been undertaken. The retention of woodland around the site is important for protecting known bat habitats.
The BH1 and BH2 sites similarly have a relatively low level of ecological value but have been extensively surveyed for bird species use over the last 12 months.
The site design takes into account the results of these surveys and retains features of value wherever possible. Examples include modification of the main site access route to avoid existing bat roosts within the buildings, and the implementation of a buffer between the operational areas of the site and the River Wear.
Operational and construction design will minimise impacts such as light and noise, so as to avoid significant adverse effects on species such as bats, otters and birds. The project will seek to deliver at least a 10% net gain biodiversity;
A heritage assessment will be included with the application looking at the effect that the proposed scheme will have upon any nearby historically important designations. These include the Eastgate Village Conservation Area, the listed buildings at Ludwell and the wider Stanhope Park non-designated heritage asset. The relatively low visual effect of the proposals will limit any impact on these heritage assets.
The application will include detailed assessments of the proposal’s effects upon groundwater and surface water regimes around the site. The Environment Agency have been extensively consulted with to date as part of the preparation of those reports.
The proposal will be located outside of flood zones 2 and 3 and will be designed so as not to increase the risk of flooding further downstream on the River Wear.
A Noise Assessment will be undertaken to ensure that no unacceptable elevated noise levels are experienced by local residents, particularly within Eastgate village. The proposed operations are located well away from any nearby sensitive residential receptors.
There will be a need for some operations to be undertaken on a 24 hour a day basis these operations (i.e. water pumping) will be acoustically insulated to ensure that noise levels remain low during the very quiet night time hours.
It is not anticipated that the proposal will result in any air quality emissions. Like every construction project the building and site preparation works proposed will have the potential to create localised dust emissions if not managed correctly.
Weardale Lithium will put in place a comprehensive Construction and Environmental Management Plan (CEMP) to ensure that the potential for fugitive air quality emissions is minimised. The CEMP will also include other measures to minimise the environmental effects of the construction period, including aspects such as traffic management plans and noise mitigation steps.
Traffic and transport
The locational benefit of using the former cement works site means that water can be abstracted from the boreholes without the need for tankers using the surrounding road network. Beyond the initial construction works at each the BH1 and BH2 site, regular highways movements will be restricted to coming in and out of the former cement works site on to the A689.
To learn more about the first phase of the regeneration of the former Eastgate cement works site you are invited to attend a public exhibition to be held at the Eastgate Community Centre (A689, Eastgate, Bishop Auckland DL13 2HU) on Thursday 23rd November between 2pm and 7pm. This is a drop-in event with no pre-booking required
If you have any other queries please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
We thank everyone who took part in our survey that ran from 16th November to the 30th.