The major LusoRecursos project in Portugal may soon be abandoned, but another company is making progress with lithium in the same area. The European Union is trying to overhaul its supply chain and access the strategic product without harming the environment. Lithium is essential for batteries in consumer devices, electric vehicles and energy storage from renewable energies.
Portuguese Environment Minister João Pedro Matos Fernandes has indicated that a 500 million euro lithium mining and processing project is about to be “completely canceled” soon. He told Politico that the government could abandon the contract with LusoRecursos for exploration that was signed in 2019, citing the company’s “lack of professionalism” regarding its “clearly insufficient” environmental impact assessment.
The Montalegre project in the north was supposed to strengthen Portugal’s position as the largest producer of raw material in Europe. The consumer electronics industry, electric car makers, and renewable energy investors depend on lithium for batteries, although the alkali metal is widely used in other industries as well, and demand is growing rapidly.
Green mining does not exist
The inhabitants opposed the Montalegre project, the development of which is planned on a site next to the Gerês-Xuré Biosphere Reserve and their lands. They said they feared the possibility of water contamination and also highlighted the risk to traditional agricultural activities, recognized by the United Nations as an agricultural heritage of global importance.
“Green mining does not exist,” said Armando Pinto of the local initiative Montalegre com Vida, while LusoRecursos threatened to sue the government.
At the same time, Portugal is supporting the nearby Barroso lithium mining project. Savannah Resources of the UK has launched a public consultation process for the site’s environmental impact assessment.
Australia dominates the lithium market
Critics question the cost-effectiveness of mining petalite ore in Portugal, as it is expensive to process it for lithium, unlike spodumene, which is mined elsewhere in the world. The country accounted for 1.6% of global metal production in 2019, although it ships to manufacturers of ceramics and glassware, Fitch said in a recent report. LusoRecursos and Savannah Resources say the local material is suitable for batteries and other uses.
Australia supplied 54.4% of lithium globally in 2019, more than twice as much as Chile. On the other hand, China produces more than half of the lithium-ion battery components in the world.
EU tries to secure supply with emphasis on environmental sustainability
In addition to its European Battery Alliance, created in 2017, the European Commission launched the European Raw Materials Alliance last year and added lithium to its list of critical raw materials, most of which are needed for technologies. green. The Brussels administration is committed to working to reduce dependence on third countries, diversify the offer and improve resource efficiency and circularity.
European Commission concerned about dependence on imports of lithium and components for devices
“We import lithium for electric cars, platinum to produce clean hydrogen, silicon metal for solar panels – 98% of the rare earths we need come from a single supplier, China, and that ‘is not sustainable,’ said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in February.
Residents of western Serbia and environmentalists protested against the search for lithium deposits. The Balkan country is said to have the third largest metal reserve in Europe and Rio Tinto is paving the way for exploration in the Jadar region. Is there a way to produce lithium without harming the environment and people’s livelihoods at the same time?
Carbon-free lithium could be produced in Germany and UK
EIT InnoEnergy, the European innovation engine for sustainable energy, has partnered with Vulcan Energy Resources, a lithium exploration start-up, to produce the world’s first fully carbon neutral lithium. The effort in the Upper Rhine region is part of the European Battery Alliance.
The company intends to use geothermal energy to extract the element from the continent’s largest deposit. Cornish Lithium’s Trelavour pilot plant in Cornwall, UK has similar zero carbon technology. However, problems of pollution and degradation of the landscape persist.
Germany and the Czech Republic have the largest lithium reserves in Europe, followed by Serbia
The ČEZ group and European Metals’ Cinovec project are preparing, with the help of EIT InnoEnergy, to mine a massive lithium deposit in the Czech Republic, which has the second largest reserves in the EU.
European Lithium said it expects operations for its Wolfsberg project in Austria to begin by 2023. Keliber gave the same tentative date for its company in Finland, as did Erris Resources and SolarWorld for their Zinnwald project. in Germany. Spain, also one of the main players in the lithium industry in Europe, relies on Infinity Lithium and Valorzia Mineria’s San Jose project, which could start operations by 2025.