“Lithium is not the answer”
Another voice has spoken out against the government plan to excavate vast swathes of heritage landscape in the rush to mine lithium.
And this voice is not simply concerned with heritage; it joins a number of ‘expert warnings’ that lithium is not the answer to Portugal’s path towards decarbonisation .
It belongs to former environmental secretary (PSD) and university professor Joaquim Poças Martins.
Mr Martins argues that the way forwards for Portugal will be in ‘green hydrogen’ – a strategy already being developed by PS Socialists.
He told Lusa: “You cannot destroy a mountain in order to extract a few kilos of lithium”.
This has always been the contention – the outrage expressed by local people in areas ‘identified’ for being ‘rich in lithium deposits’: where is the justification in destroying lives and landscapes for the sake of a few electric batteries for electric cars?
“Batteries won’t be the solution”, Mr Martins insists. “It is simply not possible: there aren’t enough materials in the earth for this effect.
“I am thinking more of hydrogen. Everything is pointing more towards hydrogen as a form of storing energy than batteries”.
He simplified his argument by explaining that “in half a dozen years” the lithium deposits ‘identified in Portugal’ may well have run dry.
Then “we will have a serious problem” – not least because of the destruction the lithium mining itself will have created.
“On the other hand, so called green hydrogen can be produced, and when it burns the final product is water, not carbon dioxide”
Energy, in the final analysis, “is one of the principal problems for the future” as well as being “part of the solution.
“The world of safe, abundant, cheap energy will allow many more people to live on earth, everywhere, and live better”, he stressed. But this “does not come from current solutions”.
Even when it comes to hydrogen, “the technology is still in maturity, that is the large-scale industrial development of green hydrogen in which, for example, solar energy is used in abundance to produce hydrogen, which can be used when there is no sun”.
The specialist who has headed up Porto University’s hydraulics, water resources and environment section of the Faculty of Engineering for decades, says “everything points” to an increasing use of offshore photovoltaic (solar) and eolic (wind) energy, along the lines of the model in Viana do Castelo, with massive turbines.
“The science is there”, he explains. It is simply that technology is taking its time to catch up: a car powered by green hydrogen, a plane, everything in fact, would be “much too expensive now because the technology is not yet mature enough, but it will be in five or 10 years time.
“This is the solution, it won’t be (lithium) batteries”.
Nonetheless, he accepts that in areas where “social and environmental impacts” would be negligible, then “yes” lithium mining makes some sense.
“Destroying entire hillside ranges, displacing people, to extract a small quantity of lithium for private use, much less so”.
Joaquim Poças Martins’ comments have been widely repeated by national media today, but it is unclear how the government will receive them.
Less than two months ago, environment minister João Pedro Matos Fernandes – albeit a minister who may well be replaced in the new government to emerge in February – has said that “exploration of lithium (in Portugal) is an inevitable path” and that “lithium is essential for decarbonisation” and for “digitalisation”.
Mr Matos Fernandes has also said it is vitally important for Portugal to ‘exploit” (in this case mine) the raw materials that it has, as there is currently a worldwide lack of raw materials.
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