Lithium mining projects around Europe
Europe is looking to increase its domestic supply of lithium. Find out which companies are moving ahead with lithium-mining projects in the area.
A big part of reaching that objective is the electrification of transportation, and recently proposed legislation sets targets to cut carbon emissions from cars by 55 percent and vans by 50 percent by 2030.
As battery metals investors know, the electric vehicle industry is a key demand driver for essential metals such as lithium — which the European Union included on its critical minerals list for the first time in 2020.
Furthermore, in recent years there has been a push to build out supply chains that are less dependent on Asia, particularly China, with the European Union working to release its Critical Raw Materials Act.
Europe is desperate to increase its domestic supply of lithium, though only a limited number of projects are capable of achieving production in the coming years, Jack Bedder of Project Blue told the Investing News Network.
For Bedder, Europe will have to innovate to significantly reduce its reliance on imported lithium feedstock. “Europe’s ability to ‘win’ the battle for lithium self-sufficiency remains hinged on technological breakthroughs, along with the creation of a supporting framework in which new mining and processing facilities can operate in a globally competitive industry”, he said.
Even though Europe’s lithium supply is quite limited, there are a few companies exploring and developing lithium projects in the region, with the aim of supplying the electric vehicle industry. Here’s a brief overview of some of them listed in alphabetical order.
European Lithium’s Wolfsberg hard-rock lithium deposit in Austria has a positive prefeasibility study. The company is currently working on a definitive feasibility study that is expected to be delivered in the first quarter of 2023.
The ASX-listed company, which is aiming to be the first and largest local supplier of lithium hydroxide in the region, holds a non-binding memorandum of understanding with BMW. If a deal is agreed upon, the German carmaker would make an upfront payment of US$15 million for the future supply of lithium hydroxide from Wolfsberg.
The company recently made news headlines when it said it would merge with Sizzle Acquisition, a special purpose acquisition company, to create a US-listed company called Critical Metals. European Lithium would be Critical Metals’ biggest shareholder.
European Metals’ Cinovec project is said to host the largest lithium resource in Europe. Cinovec, which is located in the Czech Republic, is a hard-rock lithium deposit that is 49 percent owned by European Metals and 51 percent owned by energy group CEZ.
According to a 2022 prefeasibility study, the Cinovec project will have a mine life of 25 years and annual production of 29,386 metric tons (MT) per year of battery grade lithium hydroxide.
Starting in 2028, minerals company Imerys is looking to produce 34,000 MT of lithium hydroxide per year for the next 25 years at an existing mine at Beauvoir in Central France. The company has also recently detected lithium in the British region of Cornwall; Imerys is currently exploring the viability of lithium mining in the region.
The San Jose deposit in Spain is 75 percent owned by Australia’s Infinity Lithium. The company, which published an underground mine scoping study in 2022, will mine the hard-rock mica resource and develop processing facilities. Infinity Lithium also kicked off the mining license and environmental impact assessment process this year.
Keliber holds several advanced lithium deposits in Finland’s Central Ostrobothnian area.
The privately held company’s lithium project is comprised of five mines, the spodumene concentrator area at Päiväneva, the lithium chemical plant at the Kokkola Industrial Park and auxiliary facilities at all sites. The company is aiming to reach production capacity of 15,000 MT of lithium hydroxide per year starting in 2025.
Keliber is majority owned by Sibanye-Stillwater, which upped its stake in the company earlier this year to 84.96 percent. State-owned company Finnish Minerals Group, alongside other minority shareholders, holds the remainder.
Seasoned lithium investors will have heard of the Jadar lithium-borate deposit in Serbia, a massive deposit where lithium is hosted by the previously unknown borosilicate mineral jadarite. Major miner Rio Tinto has invested and committed more than US$450 million to the project to date, but has faced massive environmental protests, leading the Serbian government to block the project.
Savannah Resources is working on the Mina do Barroso hard-rock lithium project in Northern Portugal. The asset, which is considered one of Europe’s biggest lithium projects, was awarded a 30 year mining lease in 2006, and has a three block mining lease application.
The company has faced opposition from environmental and community groups. Savannah Resources has been required to resubmit its environmental impact assessment, which is expected to happen in the first quarter of 2023.
Vulcan Energy Resources
Vulcan Energy Resources says its combined geothermal energy and lithium resource is the largest in Europe, with license areas in the Upper Rhine Valley in Germany and Italy. It is developing its zero-carbon project with the aim of decarbonizing lithium production.
Vulcan has signed deals with Stellantis, Renault, Umicore and South Korea’s LG Chem.
After acquiring Deutsche Lithium in 2021, Zinnwald Lithium is now the sole owner of the Zinnwald deposit in Zinnwald-Georgenfeld, located on the eastern side of Germany near the border with Czechia.
The Zinnwald deposit is a late-stage development project with an approved 30 year mining license. The company is currently working to update its environmental impact assessment, Investing News writes.
Serbia, Entire country needs to be blocked if Rio Tinto continues its lithium project
Member of parliament Aleksandar Jovanović Ćuta from the Together party accused the government that it sold Serbia’s natural resources to foreigners and called on environmentalist organizations and the population to revolt against mining projects. “We will not let that happen peacefully,” he stressed and threatened that the central Gazela bridge in Belgrade would be blocked together with the entire country if Rio Tinto continues with its lithium project.
The new Government of Serbia is facing discontent among environmental activists and the local population about mining projects just like the former cabinet of Prime Minister Ana Brnabić, but the difference is that now they also have representatives in the National Assembly. Head of the parliamentary Environmental Protection Committee and copresident of the Together (Zajedno) party Aleksandar Jovanović Ćuta said the committee’s next meeting would be held in Loznica.
Rio Tinto is still working on its project for lithium mining and processing in the area in western Serbia even though the government formally halted it in January.
The National Assembly still didn’t fulfill its legal obligation to schedule a debate on the people’s initiative to permanently ban lithium exploration and exploitation, Jovanović pointed out
Ahead of the vote on the appointment of the new government, Jovanović called other lawmakers and ministers to also come to the meeting and explain why the company still has an office in the village of Gornje Nedeljice in the territory of the city of Loznica. Furthermore, he pointed out that the National Assembly still didn’t fulfill its legal obligation to schedule a debate on the so-called people’s initiative to permanently ban lithium exploration and exploitation. The petition was signed by 40,000 people, said the top official from the green left Together party.
Jovanović, one of the leaders of protests held in the past two years against Rio Tinto’s Jadar project, accused the government that it is working for foreign interests. “Serbia is an ecological time bomb. You gave the Russians our gas and oil. To the Chinese you gave our copper and gold. Now another predator needs to be appeased, and its name is Rio Tinto. There are more than 50 mines in the new spatial plan”, he stated.
Moreover, exploration was approved for 70 potential gold mines and more than 60 lithium mines, Jovanović asserted.
Serbia is an ecological time bomb, the head of the parliamentary Environmental Protection Committee warned
“That is 15% of our territory. Well, do you think we will peacefully watch how your foreign pals plunder our gold, our lithium and our natural resources? And you plan to let peasants become environmental refugees. I am calling on all environmentalist organizations, all citizens. There is a keyword for 2022, namely revolt. We will not let that happen peacefully”, he threatened. Jovanović claimed that the Gazela bridge on the highway in central Belgrade would be blocked again, together with entire Serbia, if Rio Tinto continues with its project, Balkan Green Energy News reports.
Imerys to open French lithium mine
France’s Imerys announced plans on Monday to become the leading supplier of lithium in Europe through a mining project in central France as a push to make electric vehicles widely available spurs a “white gold” rush for the mineral.
Imerys said results of surveys carried out at its Beauvoir mine in the Allier department in central France allow it to produce 34,000 tonnes of lithium hydroxide for at least 25 years from 2028 to supply around 700,000 electric cars.
The announcement comes as European miners are rushing to launch domestic production of the raw material, a crucial component for electric vehicle production, currently sourced almost entirely from outside the bloc.
Electric cars are a key plank of European Union plans to cut emissions, and the bloc is trying to reduce reliance on battery supplies from Asia through projects with European-based carmakers and battery specialists.
Touring the Paris Motor Show last week, French President Emmanuel Macron told the financial daily Les Echos that his administration wanted to make electric vehicles “accessible to everyone”.
Macron then proceeded to announce a series of measures to enable households to acquire electric vehicles.
With the EU seeking to ban the sale of combustion engine vehicles from 2035, France is trying to gradually phase out fossil-fuel cars.
While the move is seen as an essential step on the road to energy transition, it also poses a serious problem: it will require massive quantities of metals needed to manufacture batteries, especially lithium.
Almost all the critical minerals currently come from outside the continent, with China dominating the global supply chain. The world’s main lithium suppliers also include Australia and Argentina.
Since 2015, production volumes of lithium – also known as “white gold” – have tripled worldwide, reaching 100,000 tonnes per year by 2021, according to the International Energy Agency.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said last month that “lithium and rare earths will soon be more important than oil and gas”, adding that the bloc’s demand for rare earths alone will increase fivefold by 2030.
Various miners are exploring domestic European lithium projects including in Austria, Germany and the Czech Republic.
Imery’s French rival Eramet is exploring a project in the Alsace region.
The French project is estimated to involve construction capex of around 1 billion euros, Imerys said, adding that cash cost of the lithium project is estimated to be around 7-9 euros per kilo.
The Beauvoir site has been producing kaolin for ceramics since the late 19th century.
In Serbia, a domestic mining project has been facing stiff opposition from the local population.
Europe is looking to enter the race for lithium
Lithium is the essential resource for developing a sustainable electric vehicle industry in Europe. Until now, this resource has mainly been produced in Australia, Chile, and China. Europe is looking to enter the race for this white gold and is betting on several deposits in its soil. We’ve put together a list below of the 6 main European mines that will be exploited in the coming years.
Lithium is a white powder that is essential for the manufacture of electric car batteries. In 2021, according to the US Geological Survey (USGS), global production is close to 100,000 metric tons, a figure 20% higher than in 2020. Global consumption in 2021 is estimated to be 93,000 metric tons. This is due to strong growth in global demand, particularly because of the accelerated production of EV batteries required for the energy transition.
This alkaline metal allows electrons to flow between a positive and a negative electrode, both of which are immersed in an ionic conducting liquid (the electrolyte).
When a lithium-ion battery is used, for example to power an electric car, the electrons accumulated in the negative electrode are released and reach the positive electrode. The opposite happens when the battery is being charged. Without lithium, batteries could not power a device and then recharge.
There are two types of lithium that can be used in batteries: lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide. Currently, the demand for lithium hydroxide for batteries is increasing and could exceed the demand for lithium carbonate by 2030. Lithium hydroxide is currently priced at around US$35,000 a metric ton. Lithium carbonate is around US$ 59,900 a metric ton.
The problem with this precious metal is that it is found in a few places on earth. The main producers are Australia (55%), Chile (26%), China (14%), and Argentina (6%). China is the leading lithium refiner.
Reducing Europe’s Dependence
This means that Europe has no choice today but to import almost all the lithium it consumes. According to forecasts, at least 30 million zero-emission electric vehicles will be on the roads of the EU by 2030. Thermal vehicles will be banned in Europe in 2035. By 2030, Europe aims to produce 25% of the world’s batteries (compared to 3% in 2020) in its numerous production plants currently under construction.
The EU should therefore see its lithium consumption explode in the coming years. Some estimates predict a 20-fold increase between 2020 and 2030.
In a tweet, Ursula von der Leyen warned that Europe must get rid of its dependence on the outside world, especially China. She believes the continent must put in place an industrial strategy not only for lithium but for all the other rare earth elements found in batteries such as nickel, cobalt, or graphite.
Europe has already entered the race for the new white gold and is seeking to develop its own lithium mining industry. The USGS estimates probable European resources at 7% of the world total. The number of mining projects has increased in recent years in several European countries.
Here is a tour of Europe’s main projects and the companies behind them. These projects could eventually cover 80% of European battery needs.
The Barroso Project, Savannah Resources
Portugal has the largest reserve of lithium in Europe with around 60,000 metric tons of known reserves, according to the USGS. But until now, Portuguese lithium has mainly been used in the ceramics industry to make glassware. The country is just now entering the race for the new white gold.
British company Savannah Resources has ambitions to exploit the Barroso mine in the north of the country, which is rich in spodumene, a form of hard rock lithium.
According to Savannah Resources, the mine could contain 27 million metric tons of lithium, including over 285,900 metric tons of lithium oxide. According to the company, this is enough to meet the demand in Europe over the next few decades.
The group is waiting for the green light from the Portuguese authorities to start production as the project is facing strong local opposition. If opened in 2023, the Mina do Barroso open-pit mine will become the first major producer of lithium in Europe.
The Vulcan Project, Vulcan Energy
Australian company Vulcan Energy is currently working on a pilot project in the Upper Rhine Valley in Germany. The idea is to produce “zero-carbon” green lithium by using geothermal energy to extract lithium-rich brine from the Upper Rhine. The final lithium hydroxide will then be created by electrolysis.
The company says they were able to produce 57.1% lithium hydroxide, surpassing the 56.5% battery grade specifications usually required.
The Vulcan pilot plant in Germany has been operating since April 2021 and is expected to launch commercial production in 2025.
The EMILI Project, Imerys
French company Imerys recently announced that it will start mining a lithium deposit in the Massif Central (in the Allier department) in 2028.
Since the second half of the 19th century, the site has been home to a quarry producing 30,000 metric tons of kaolin per year for tile production.
According to Alessandro Dazza, CEO of Imerys, the deposit contains one million metric tons of lithium oxide. This would be enough to produce, according to the company, “34,000 metric tons of lithium hydroxide per year from 2028 over 25 years.” This would enable approximately 700,000 electric vehicles to be equipped with lithium-ion batteries.
4/ Czech Republic
The Cinovec Project, European Metals Holding
The Cinovec project, located 100 km from Prague in the Czech Republic, is being carried out by European Metals Holding. It aims to produce nearly 30,000 metric tons of battery-grade lithium per year over a period of 25 years.
According to European Metals’ 2022 pre-feasibility study, Cinovec has the potential to become the producer of the lowest-cost hard rock lithium in the world. The mine could produce at a cost of US$5,000 to US$6,000 per metric ton.
The Wolfsberg Project, European Lithium
European Lithium is developing the Wolfsberg Project in Carinthia, 270 km south of Vienna, in Austria. Located in the heart of Europe, this mine project plans to extract 10,000 metric tons of lithium hydroxide per year.
According to the company, this will equip the batteries of approximately 200,000 electric vehicles. They hope to achieve an operating rate of 800,000 metric tons per year with a mine life of over ten years.
The company expects to begin production in 2025.
The Keliber Project, Keliber Oy
Finnish company Keliber Oy, specializing in mining and battery chemicals, is currently running a project in western Finland with the objective of reaching the production of 15,000 metric tons of lithium hydroxide per year beginning in 2025.
The company is also aiming for sustainable production. The lithium they plan to extract will, they say, have a smaller carbon footprint than the competition. This is because the refinery plant is located 70 km from the mine. In addition to this, more than half of the electricity in the Finnish national grid is generated from renewable energy sources. As a result, the refining process will be more environmentally friendly.
The Finnish potential has attracted the attention of investors. South African mining giant Sibanye-Stillwater intends to acquire a majority stake in Keliber Oy.
The enthusiasm for lithium mining in Europe is not unanimous, however. In Serbia, the Anglo-Australian company Rio Tinto stopped its project in the southwest of the country due to local opposition.
In the future, the most important challenge for Europe will be to find ways to accommodate mining projects and environmental and social standards. As can be seen, the European lithium extraction projects that are listed above will not be operational until 2025. But the demand for gigafactories is already here. Swedish company Northvolt has already opened Europe’s first battery gigafactory, Direct Industry writes.
Rio Tinto’s Serbian saga offers a lesson in critical minerals
The failure of the Jadar Project in Serbia should be viewed as an opportunity for all role-players to recalibrate their processes in line with ESG principles
The northern hemisphere’s summer of 2022 will be remembered as one of the hottest in recorded history. For example, Nasa reported that June was one of the hottest Junes on record. The UK, in turn, experienced record temperatures in July.
On May 14, the city of Jacobabad, Pakistan, became the hottest city on Earth, when temperatures peaked at 51ºC. Contemporaneously other parts of the world suffered devastating climate change-related fires (such as those that blazed across France) or floods (including the August 8 large-scale floods in Seoul).
These events provide an unfortunate prelude to the Sharm el-Sheikh Climate Change Conference scheduled for November (better known as COP27), which is now less than three months away. While it remains critical for governments across the world to remain committed to the undertakings provided under the Paris Agreement, words without actions are of little value to those who are being (or will soon be) affected by increasingly severe weather events.
The single most important impediment to this growth trajectory, according to a July 2022 report by the International Energy Agency (IEA), is the supply of critical minerals and metals used in the manufacture of batteries. According to the IEA, battery and minerals supply chains will have to expand tenfold to meet government electric vehicle (EV) ambitions.
Following the increased demand for battery metals during the pandemic the prices of raw materials such as cobalt, lithium and nickel surged. In May lithium prices were more than seven times higher than in early 2021 owing to unprecedented battery demand and a lack of sufficient investment in new supply capacity.
The demand for key minerals such as lithium will only increase as the global community continues to race towards net zero by 2050. Whether or not we will succeed depends on access to the required minerals.
Controversial Jadar Project lithium mine
On April 3 Aleksandar Vučić was re-elected for a second term as president of Serbia, with the coalition formed around his party, SNS, winning the most seats in the National Assembly, albeit falling short of an outright majority. Vučić’s re-election followed the widely publicised January 20 cancellation of what became known as the controversial Jadar Project, the proposed development by Rio Tinto of a $2.4bn lithium mine in Serbia.
While the government’s actions raised new questions surrounding the future of the lithium mining industry in Serbia, in the light of the IEA’s recent report it also poses existential questions for global supply chains.
The cancellation of the Jadar Project followed months of countrywide protests over the potential environmental impact of the project. The affair gave rise to intense speculation over the introduction of a possible blanket ban on lithium mining in Serbia; president Vučić’s previous administration had promised to defer such a decision until after the election.
The introduction of such a ban would prove to be a mistake. The mineral deposits at the heart of the Jadar Project are located underneath a river system in an agricultural area that is prone to flooding, giving rise to a material environmental risk. The Serbian government did not have a direct stake in the proposed lithium mine and so could not justify the project on the basis that it would fill public coffers. The government consequently did not believe it could do what governments elsewhere do when they have a fair deal: politically and publicly defend it.
The Serbian government had hoped to use the project as a basis to attract further investment across the batteries sector, including the manufacturing of batteries and battery-reliant products, such as EVs. However, the government was unable to present to the public concrete assurances that the project would lead to the creation of more than a small number of relatively low-skill mining jobs. As a result there was a widespread sentiment among the Serbian public that the main beneficiaries of the Jadar Project would be European carmakers and consumers, who would benefit from Serbia’s cheaper labour costs at the expense of the Serbian environment.
By December 2021 thousands of people across the country had began protesting, and the matter quickly became the leading electoral issue in the build-up to the general election on April 3 2022. As a result, on January 20 the government announced that it was revoking all of Rio Tinto’s permits relating to the project, with the promise that it would consider introducing an outright ban on lithium mining following the general election.
Although the Jadar Project was ostensibly cancelled over concerns regarding the potential of environmental damage, it is important to note that Rio Tinto had complied with all applicable local laws. The project was cancelled prior to the completion of a final environmental impact assessment, as mandated by Serbian law, meaning the public furore over the potential environmental damage was not supported by a comprehensive scientific assessment.
The failure of the Jadar Project is therefore an important example of a mining project being cancelled owing to reaching a critical level of opposition from the public, also referred to as a loss of the “societal licence” to operate that may not have existed in the first place.
Managing the ‘S’ in ESG
The episode illustrates the reality that public acceptance is the currency on which mining companies trade. Such acceptance of a mining company can make or break a project, including one with strong central government backing. Accordingly, mining companies must be sensitive to the fact that globally the sector is often not trusted by communities for a variety of reasons (often outside the control of the companies themselves).
Companies must become better at convincing communities, authorities and the public that they can be trusted because they have a well developed understanding of the social risk factors that are most relevant to each individual project, rather than adopting an unchanging, one-size-fits all approach. The lack of a social impact assessment in Jadar (with an integrated human rights impact assessment), in line with industry best practice (though not required by Serbian law) proved fatal in this regard.
At the same time, the failure of the Jadar Project cannot rest on Rio alone. Jadar’s host government partner, the previous Vučić administration, expended political capital in promoting and advocating for the project until the affair became a serious electoral risk. The public was not persuaded by arguments that the project had been conducted in accordance with the applicable regulatory regime, largely because the regulatory regime itself simply was not aligned with the public’s evolving expectations. Governments, as well as mining companies, should be mindful of the fact that public-interest projects are always subject to scrutiny under the evolving criteria of societal expectations.
This is not in itself a new concept; it is simply the case that the public expectations on mining companies are increasingly becoming much more demanding than the legal requirements imposed by national regulatory regimes. The episode should be seen as a timely reminder for national regulators and mining companies should recalibrate their processes to be founded in environmental, social and governance (ESG) principles. Moreover, if governments and national regulators wish to remain the final decisionmakers over which mining projects are deemed to be in the public interest, they must ensure that the legal and regulatory regimes in place reflect the evolving expectations of the public in each stage of the development and operation of a mine such as Jadar.
The role of international financial institutions should likewise not be overlooked in this regard. Although they did not feature prominently in the Jadar Project, similar projects in developing countries are often financed (at least in part) by large international financial institutions such as the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation or the US Development Finance Corporation. In view of the importance placed by stakeholders on the reputation of mining companies, the backing of those international financial institutions is often used to buttress the credentials of sensitive projects.
Where this is the case the relevant international financial institutions are well placed to guide, through their well-developed performance standards, both mining companies and governments in navigating the challenges associated with obtaining and maintaining a project’s societal licence. This may include, where appropriate, making the availability of financing conditional on the relevant mining company satisfying certain ESG-linked criteria.
History is the best teacher
It is clear that the failure of the Jadar Project has exposed a breakdown in public trust and fault lines between the expectations of mining companies, governments and the wider public. However, extractive resources which are associated with “green” industries, such as lithium, present a unique opportunity to combine economic development with the advancement of the transition to low-carbon energy sources. Despite the associated challenges, entirely foregoing the extraction of such resources would be a mistake which is likely to have worse environmental consequences in the long run.
Accordingly, rather than resulting in a ban on lithium extraction, the failure of the Jadar Project should be viewed as an opportunity for investors, governments and international financial institutions to recalibrate their processes in line with ESG principles, to facilitate the sustainable growth of the mining sector. To achieve this a delicate balance must be struck between the ability of companies to turn a profit and the need to promote sustainable economic development and combat the effects of climate change in line with societal expectations and the concerns of the broader citizenry, Business Live writes.
Portugal will not commit to setting a new date for a long-awaited auction of lithium mining licences
Portugal will not commit to setting a new date for a long-awaited auction of lithium mining licences as it awaits the conclusion of ongoing environmental impact studies at two sites, Energy Secretary Joao Galamba said on Wednesday.
The southern European nation, which has 60,000 tonnes of known lithium reserves, is central to Europe’s bid to secure more of the battery value chain and cut reliance on imports.
Concerns about the potential environmental and social impact of lithium mining from nature preservation groups and local communities have led to multiple delays to the auction, initially planned for 2018.
Galamba told a parliamentary committee that the “government understands that the international auction will benefit from the conclusion of these processes”.
“It doesn’t make much sense to launch an international public auction, when simultaneously these environmental assessment processes are underway” at the Barroso mine and the Montalegre mine, in northern Portugal, he said.
The Barroso mine is owned by London-based mining company Savannah Resources (SAVS.L) and the Montalegre mine is owned by local company Lusorecursos.
Savannah said in a statement earlier on Wednesday it had “very useful and productive” meetings with Portugal’s environmental agency APA. As a result, it has until March 17 to submit its revised plans to the regulator.
However, APA does not have a deadline to decide on the evaluation process, which could be interrupted if it asks for more data or clarification.
The environment ministry, to which Galamba’s department belongs, has said the assessment conducted by the energy and geology agency analysed eight lithium-rich areas in central and northern Portugal, concluding “there were conditions to move forward in six of them”.
Portugal is Europe’s biggest lithium producer but its miners sell almost exclusively to the ceramics industry and are only now preparing to produce the higher-grade lithium that is in demand globally for use in electric cars and electronic devices, Reuters writes.
Jadar could have made Serbia billions of dollars richer
Jadar could have made Serbia billions of dollars richer if not for voiding Rio Tinto’s lithium exploration licences in January. Serbians might have made the right decision after finding out the real plans of the project.
Europe’s largest lithium mine
The Jadar lithium project is Europe’s largest lithium mine, with a supposed $2.4 billion fund from Rio Tinto. The said lithium mine could produce 1 million electric vehicle (EV) batteries. However, locals of Jadar Valley opposed the project, not willing to sacrifice their land. They don’t want to replace their sweet and juicy raspberries and abundant bees with batteries for electric vehicles. Besides, the damages that mining will create are irreparable.
Rio Tinto found a new type of mineral called jadarite, containing borates and lithium. Jadarite was discovered in Jadar, hence the name of the mineral, in 2004. According to the giant mining company, these materials play a key role in the green transition. Lithium is important in manufacturing EV batteries. Borates, on the other hand, are useful in making wind and solar projects.
The supposed Serbia Jadar Lithium Project is one of the planet’s biggest greenfield lithium projects. Jadar’s high-grade nature and extensive deposit provide the possibility of a mine that can supply lithium for EVs for several decades. The abundance of boron and lithium deposits can make Serbia a key world producer.
If the project pursues, the initial mine’s commercial production is anticipated no earlier than 2027. The yearly production would be 58,000 tonnes of lithium carbonate and 160,000 tonnes of boric acid (B2O3
units). The production of sodium sulphate1, on the other hand, will be 255,000 tonnes.
Lies emerged about the Jadar Lithium Project
Gornje Nedeljice locals had peace of mind when the government decided to revoke Rio Tinto’s licence for mine jadarite. In fact, Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic announced it herself.
However, not everyone is convinced, especially Marijana Petković, a local campaign group Ne Damo Jadar member. She said, “I want the western countries to have the green transition and to live like people in Jadar. But that doesn’t mean that we need to destroy our nature. We started to fight against the mine when they found out the company was lying to us for 14 years; when we found out how big the mine really is.”
There’s a prevailing scepticism about the cancellation of the Jadar lithium project. The government only nullified the project to end protests that could mess up the presidential and parliamentary elections (April 3). It could resume if there were reelection of the government.
“Once re-elected, we expect the SNS will maintain its pro-mining stance. The fact that the government has so far refused to consider a potential lithium mining ban in Serbia points in this direction. This gave environmental protests an anti-government element and proved to be a unifying force for the historically fragmented political opposition in Serbia,” said Capucine May, Verisk Maplecroft expert.
However, Rio Tinto repudiated that this wasn’t their intention. They said it was not their plan or didn’t fulfil any activities or actions to the project’s legal stature.
They say that what you don’t know won’t hurt you. But the truth will always find a way to reveal itself. Locals found out that Jadar Lithium Project won’t just take 20 hectares of land but 600 hectares! It’s almost the size of 10,000 tennis courts, European Views writes.
Lithium could help end the EU’s oil addiction
Europe’s desire to wean itself off fossil fuels and end its reliance on Russian energy is not only going to involve a sea change in consumer habits, but it is also going to require a lot of lithium.
Given that the Old Continent barely produces any of the metal: is it just swapping one dependency for another?
European leaders have extolled the virtues of the New Green Deal which plans for the 27-country bloc to become the first carbon-neutral continent by 2050. To achieve this, the EU aims to slash greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by 2030 compared to the 1990s level, bring emissions from new cars by 2035 down to zero and boost its share of renewables in the bloc’s energy mix to 40%.
Lithium is increasingly used for batteries in electronics from smartphones to television as well as to store energy produced by solar panels and wind turbines and in electric cars.
According to the World Bank, the production of minerals, such as graphite, lithium and cobalt, would need to increase by nearly 500% by 2050 in order to meet climate goals while EU officials estimate that to achieve climate neutrality by mid-century, the bloc will require 18 times more lithium than it currently uses by 2030 and almost 60 times more by 2050.
Yet, Europe only has one lithium mine, in Portugal, and the very vast majority of its needs is currently met by imports.
About 87% of unrefined lithium the EU sources comes from Australia — the rest from Portugal — while Chile, the US and Russia provide 78%, 8% and 4% respectively.
China is also a particularly big player. Although it has about an estimated 7% of the world’s reserves in lithium, 13% of the lithium extracted in 2019 was in China while over half of the lithium extracted that year was processed in the country.
More than 70% of the lithium-ion batteries that entered the market last year were produced in China.
Brussels is aware of this dependency and added lithium to its list of critical raw materials list in 2020.
A Commission spokesperson acknowledged to Euronews that “the production and refining of lithium are heavily concentrated in a handful of foreign countries, which raises our vulnerability to various supply risks.”
They added that “given the economic and technological relevance of this resource, as well as the external dependencies it generates, it is our responsibility to ensure that the European economy can benefit from a sustainable and resilient supply of lithium.”
“Although the EU will continue to cultivate its international partnerships, significant lithium extraction potential exists within our borders and its exploitation could create thousands of jobs. Developing local lithium mining and processing operations will not only enhance our strategic autonomy and reinforce our economy, but will also allow us to better monitor and contain the environmental impacts of mining industries, which are far more difficult to control beyond the EU’s borders,” they said.
Opposition to mines
There are currently 10 potentially viable lithium projects in the EU: three in Portugal, two in Spain and Germany each, with the remaining three in the Czech Republic, Finland and Austria respectively.
For Rene Kleijn, associate professor at the Institute of Environmental Sciences (CML) at Leiden University, “if all these plants become operational, it would probably be enough for our own supply.”
Problem solved, then? Well, not quite.
Getting all these projects off the ground will not necessarily be easy. A €2.2 billion lithium mine project in Serbia was shelved earlier this year after strong local opposition over environmental concerns. There is also fierce opposition to lithium mining in Portugal.
The mining process for lithium is primarily done in two ways. There is the traditional open-pit approach with the metal extracted from hard rock and the second one involves pumping huge amounts of underground water to the surface to remove lithium from the briny liquid that comes up as the water evaporates.
Both are seen as disruptive to the landscape and local population with a potential risk of air and water pollution. Using water to extract lithium is also controversial as water becomes more scarce in some areas due to climate change. Large parts of Portugal and Spain, for instance, have been suffering through a winter drought resulting in near-depleted reservoirs.
But there is a third, greener, way of mining lithium, called Direct Lithium Extraction and that is being implemented for the potential project in Germany. It relies on geothermal energy to pump the brine to the surface to allow for the extraction of lithium before being pumped back into the underground geothermal reservoir.
From extraction to production
Mining however is just the tip of the iceberg. Once extracted, lithium needs to be refined, batteries made and eventually recycled.
In fact, the latter is really where lithium shines.
“One of the largest sources of pollution in Europe and CO2 emissions is road transport,” Julia Poliscanova, Vehicles & e-mobility lead at Transport & Environment, a clean transport campaign group, told Euronews,
Transport generates about a quarter of the EU’s total emissions with road transport accounting for about 70% of them.
“The best way to decarbonise one of the largest climate problems is electrification, and for that, we need batteries. And for that, we need lithium.
“However, it is indeed important to stress that any mining, any raw material extraction, oil, nickel, lithium, gas comes with an impact. When it comes to lithium, the impact per car is significantly less so. When you have a car, you would burn 17,000 litres of oil over the use of that car,” she said.
“For a battery, an electric vehicle, you need about five or six kilogrammes of lithium that you can then recycle and reuse again and again. You just need to get it into your first batteries and then after some time, it can become a circular loop. So the impact of lithium is significantly less than the impact of oil.”
US and China move faster
But again Europe is running behind on the entire supply chain infrastructure.
The European Battery Directive of 2006 was written before lithium-ion batteries became increasingly prominent due to a more lukewarm approach towards fighting climate change then and thus did not set any targets for the recycling of lithium. Nowadays, almost no lithium is recovered in the EU, whereas recycling efficiencies are estimated at about 95 % for cobalt and nickel, and 80 % for copper.
“We could have anticipated this much earlier. For example, in the US we now have policies that basically come from Cold War times that are now being implemented by President Biden in order to secure supply chains for batteries, and electric vehicles,” Kleijn said.
Washington’s Defence Production Act allows the White House to exert control over domestic industries in times of crisis. It was used by President Trump to limit exports of medical goods at the start of the pandemic and by Biden to accelerate vaccination.
It has now once more been invoked by Biden “to secure American production of critical materials to bolster our clean energy economy by reducing our reliance on China and other countries for the minerals and materials that will power our clean energy future” including lithium, nickel, cobalt, graphite, and manganese.
“This is really like hard core state interference in the markets to make sure that your industries are able to survive and also are not dependent on autocratic states or other states that you might not want to be dependent upon. And this is not the kind of policies that Europe is famous for,” Kleijn argued.
“And I’m not even talking about China. I mean, in China, it’s completely state-operated. Large Chinese state-owned mining companies are involved in mining all of these materials all over the world, whether it’s cobalt in Africa or lithium in Australia. The biggest miner for the biggest Australian mining of lithium, for example, is one-quarter owned by a Chinese state-owned company. So you can see how the Chinese government is also heavily involved in securing the supply chains also overseas,” he added.
2030 and beyond
Investments are being made across Europe in battery production to curb reliance from abroad.
About 24 lithium-ion battery cells giga-factories were expected to open across the EU between 2021 and 2030. Tesla, for instance, opened its gigafactory in Germany last month.
The association of European Automotive and Industrial Battery Manufacturers now forecasts that the EU battery market value will grow from €15 billion in 2019 to an estimated €35 billion in 2030 — with lithium-ion accounting for about half — while the global market value will grow from €90 billion to 150 billion.
Still, even in the best-case scenario, with all potential mines opening by 2025, “I don’t see how Europe will achieve sufficiency in this decade,” Poliscanova flagged.
“But moving after 2030, depending on how smart our policy on recycling is, Europe can become self-sufficient,” she concluded, Euronews reports.