POOL, United Kingdom – Cornwall’s last tin mine closed 20 years ago. Now growing demand for metals from ethical sources could spark a revival in one of Britain’s most deprived regions.
Once the mining center of the world, Cornwall is dotted with more than 2,000 derelict engine houses, many of them along its rugged coastline. Tin mining and smelting in this southwest corner of rural England dates back thousands of years. But in the late 19th century, when new deposits were discovered in East Asia and South America, English tin became uncompetitive and Cornish miners scattered overseas in search of new prospects.
Cornwall has struggled ever since. It is the second-poorest region in Northern Europe, according to EU data, and it struggles with higher rates of child poverty and homelessness than the rest of the United Kingdom. Now its fortunes may be looking up again. Ruined tin mines could be revived because tech companies and carmakers are racing to find ethical sources of the metal. And the last mine to close —South Crofty — could be the first to reopen.
“The ethically sourced aspect of the high tech world today is a very prominent issue, certainly in tin,” said Richard Williams, CEO of Strongbow Exploration, a Canadian firm which plans to reopen the South Crofty mine by 2021. “There’s a real push from end-users and investors to ensure that there’s a clean chain of supply.”
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.
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