Searching for lithium deposits with satellites

CORNWALL, a rugged peninsula that forms Britain’s south-western extremity, has a history of mining going back thousands of years. Its landscape is dotted with the ruins of long-closed tin and copper mines, along with mountains of spoil from the extraction of china clay (also known as kaolin), a business that still clings to life today. Now, though, prospectors are back on the ground. Or, rather, they aren’t. Instead, they are peering down from space. And what they are searching for is not tin, nor copper nor kaolin, but a material that has come into demand only recently: lithium.

The high-flying prospectors in question are a group led by Cristian Rossi, an expert on remote sensing, which has been organised under the auspices of the curiously named Satellite Applications Catapult, an innovation centre backed by the British government. The plan is to use satellites already in orbit to detect and map geological and botanical features that might betray the presence of subterranean lithium. Though satellite prospecting of…

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