Europe, Lithium’s green potential
“Lithium and rare earths will soon be more important than oil and gas”, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said last September.
The Commission chief pronounced these words as Europe was reeling from an energy crisis accelerated by Russia’ war in Ukraine and which led to the bloc pledging to wean itself off fossil fuels — most of which it has traditionally supplied from Russia — and accelerate its transition towards “homegrown” renewables and other green tech.
These, however, rely on so-called rare earths which are needed to produce everything from the latest generation batteries to the materials needed to manufacture photovoltaic panels.
“The urgency now is securing lithium supplies, it’s really really urgent,” Dr Evi Petavratzi, a senior mineral commodity geologist at the British Geological Survey told Euronews.
The United States Geological Survey estimates that Europe is home to 7% of global lithium deposits, enough to cover 80% of European battery needs.
Why are new mines so hard to open?
New mines currently take decades to get approved, due to fierce opposition by local people and politicians who are concerned about environmental and social consequences.
An example of this is the Norra Kärr rare earth element project in southern Sweden. Despite this deposit being found in 2009 and a 25-year mining licence being granted in 2013, no metals have been extracted.
The licence granting led to large protests over environmental concerns and the extraction licence was overturned in 2016 and a mine leasing application was rejected in 2021.
Speaking about the environmental impact of hard-rock mining, Dr Simon Jowitt, an economic geologist and associate professor at UNLV Department of Geoscience said: “There’s always a certain potential impact on the environment, on ground and service water.”
“Every mine is a little different in terms of that potential, but there’s always some. There’s also the risk posed by dust from mines.”
Most lithium is extracted by one of two methods: solar evaporation and hard-rock mining.
The biggest concerns with this form of extracting lithium are its high water usage, possible depletion of groundwater levels, and the waste salt which is left behind. Approximately 2.2 million litres of water is needed to produce one tonne of lithium using this method.
The other most common way of extracting this precious metal is through more traditional hard-rock mining, typically using opencast pits.
Not only are such pits an eyesore, but dust from such mines can also spread to surrounding areas sparking health and environmental concerns. Furthermore, the processing of the mined material can also use significant amounts of water.
However, it is important to put the risks involved in precious metal mining in the context of the benefit they bring from reducing fossil fuel extraction.
Higher prices enabling more complicated extractions
Increased demand for batteries — it is set to explode 14-fold between 2020 to 2030 — has pushed up the demand and price of lithium from about $20,000 per tonne five years ago to $80,000 per tonne last November and driven innovation into new, more expensive, mining methods that mitigate possible impacts on the environment.
An example of this is the proposed San José de Valdeflórez lithium mine in Spain’s Western province of Extremadura.
Originally proposed as an open-pit mine less than a kilometre away from the UNESCO mediaeval city of Cáceres and a natural reserve, the project faced fierce opposition from all quarters.
However, Extremadura New Energies (ENE), the Spanish subsidiary of Infinity Lithium, is now planning on building the mine completely underground with the entrance of the mine being located 2 km away from the city.
The material will also be crushed inside the enclosed mine, cutting the risk of dust pollution.
It has also unveiled plans to use patented technology which means the mine will not have to use sulfuric acid for lithium extraction, resulting in a zero-flow discharge mine. This dramatically reduces the risk of contaminating surrounding land water sources.
Additionally, the vehicles and mining operations will be powered by renewable energy, including from a new green hydrogen plant.
However, these mitigation methods were only introduced following objections by local people and authorities – highlighting the importance of local engagement in improving lithium mining.
Furthermore, although the deliberations and debates over the San José de Valdeflórez project resulted in a much-improved end project, it has been a long journey since it was first proposed in 2015.
Despite this, the project’s environmental impact has never been approved or evaluated. The company is currently seeking approval for an exploration permit and hopes to submit the project for environmental evaluation by April this year.
A local protest group, Salvemos la Montaña (Let’s Save the Mountain), has also gained significant support in its campaign against the project.
EU mining ambitions
The Commission wants Europe to build a more resilient supply chain to reduce its reliance on strategic competitors for imports and processing of rare metals.
In a document published last year, The Commission stated it could introduce targets into legislation, for example, that at least 30% of the EU’s demand for refined lithium should originate from the EU by 2030.
Another goal is to ensure that the time from the start of exploration work to a mine or a refining facility opening is reduced to a matter of years, not decades.
To do that, it plans “to facilitate the roll-out of targeted raw materials projects in the EU” and for the Commission to be empowered to “list Strategic Projects – which would be labelled as of European interest – based on proposals from member states.”
Ramón Jiménez, CEO of ENE told Euronews he certainly believes that “it is possible to make this process faster without reducing environmental or social impact reductions”.
He said that his San José de Valdeflórez project had enjoyed strong support from the central Spanish government. However, convincing central governments may be the easy part, convincing local residents will be key if the EU really wants to boost its mining output, Euronews writes.
Europe, Raw materials are present in the ground all over the world but some are more common in certain areas than others
These minerals and metals are used in many technologies, from smartphones to wind turbines and electric car batteries.
And as countries around the world are setting out to reduce carbon emissions, the demand for clean technologies is increasing, and with it so is the demand for raw materials.
K.C. Michaels is a legal advisor and critical minerals expert at the Internation Energy Agency, an intergovernmental organisation analysing data on the energy sector worldwide.
“Essentially all of the clean energy technologies that we need to decarbonise the energy system require large amounts of minerals and metals,” he explains.
Electric vehicle (EV) batteries for instance need large amounts of lithium, nickel, cobalt, manganese and graphite. While rare earth elements are mainly used in permanent magnets for EV motors and wind turbines.
The European Union has established a list of 30 critical raw materials, mostly minerals, that are considered strategic to the EU’s economy and that have high supply risk.
The EU’s 30 critical raw materials
But where do we get them from?
“The first challenge is the availability of those critical raw materials,” explains Dario Liguti, the director of sustainable energy at the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe.
“The production of some of those materials is highly concentrated in certain countries today,” he adds.
More than three-quarters of the global production of critical raw materials used for energy comes from just three countries.
China leads with 66% of the global supply share, followed by South Africa with 9% and the Democratic Republic of Congo with 5%.
And in some cases, a single country can be responsible for over half of the global output.
“For example, cobalt supply from the Democratic Republic of Congo is about 60 or 70% of the world production,” Liguti explains.
Which countries account for most of the global supply of critical raw materials?
For many raw materials, a single country can be responsible for half of the global output.
For 19 of them, China is responsible for most of the supply.
China also plays a huge role in refining, a necessary step before the materials can be used.
So for example, even though cobalt is primarily mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo, almost all of it goes to China for processing.
This concentration of resources can lead to major issues in supply, particularly for places like Europe, which produces very little in-house.
“If we imagine a world where there are ten suppliers of lithium and one of those suppliers has a strike or some sort of issue and a shutdown, there are a lot of opportunities to switch to other suppliers.
But if we imagine a world where there are only two suppliers and there’s a disruption from one, then there’s a really big impact,” Michaels says.
“Their demand is already right now explosive and it will only become so as the transition towards a less carbonised energy system becomes even more important,” Liguti says.
The International Energy Agency projects that if the world stays on track to meet its global climate goals and reach net zero by 2050, the overall demand for minerals is going to quadruple by 2030.
“This is a huge increase in just the next seven or eight years,” Michaels says.
“When we start to look at specific minerals, then the demand increase can be much higher. Specifically for lithium, it’s as many as 40 times, depending on the scenario,” he adds.
So can the current supply keep up with growing demands?
“There is a real risk that we won’t be able to ramp up production fast enough to meet these goals,” Michaels says.
“Even if we could have 100% re-use of all the minerals and metals that are out there today, we’re still not even close,” he adds.
According to Liguti, increasing production won’t be enough. “The quantities necessary for the green transition are staggering,” he says.
“The answer to that demand is not only through increased primary production, but it is as well through the increase of the recycling and the reuse of those raw materials, on establishing the circular economy, the traceability of those minerals, so we exactly know at which stage of the value chain those raw materials are,” he explains.
Securing the supply is not the only issue at stake. Mining can have a destructive impact not only on the environment but also on local communities.
“While we develop lithium mines and cobalt mines and manganese mines, even if the scale of operations is smaller, we don’t want to do the same errors that we did when we started exploiting oil and gas, ” Liguti says.
So we have to consider what happens to mines at the end of their lifecycle, he adds.
This means looking at “what to do with the mine, how to involve the local communities, how to account for negative externalities on the environment and mitigate those aspects”, he explains.
So how can we ensure a sustainable and ethical supply chain of raw materials?
One of the solutions, experts say, is supply chain diligence.
“Companies will be required to look into their suppliers and really try to understand where the materials are coming from, what the risks are and what they can do as purchasers to reduce those risks,” Michaels explains.
This principle will be used in the new EU battery regulations, to ensure that batteries on the European market are sustainable and circular throughout their whole lifecycle, from the sourcing of materials to their collection, recycling and repurposing.
“It can lead to real efforts to improve the situation because once the downstream companies, the purchasing companies and the car manufacturers become engaged, then they can bring about a lot of change.
They can speak to their suppliers, they can push for new standards and push for improvement,” Michaels adds.
Innovation can also play a big role in reducing the demand on raw materials.
New technologies can help improve how we use and mine these materials but also find alternative sources, develop substitutes and improve recycling.
“A raw material might not be critical a few decades from now as they were not critical a few years ago,” Liguti says.
“But they are critical now and we need to take care of that. So in 20 years, we don’t have to look back and say: “Oh, we did the same errors that we did 100 years ago when we started exploiting oil and gas”,” he adds.
To address this, the EU will adopt a Critical Raw Materials act on the 14th of March, 2023. The initiative aims to make sure Europe has a diverse and reliable supply of materials, and ensure social and environmental standards are respected, Euronews writes.
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.
Portugal: Lithium- White gold
Mining Lithium in Portugal is a very controversial subject, but there are some simple facts that can’t be ignored.
Sales and manufacturing of electric cars are growing. Governments want to ban petrol and diesel cars. Electric cars need batteries. Batteries need lithium. There isn’t enough lithium available to meet demand. Portugal has lithium.
The price of lithium has quadrupled in the last year. While Chile, Australia, Argentina, and China are home to the world’s highest lithium reserves, other countries also hold significant amounts. Chili holds the world’s largest reserves of lithium, but apart from any other consideration, Chili is a long way away from Europe, and transport alone adds a lot to the cost of delivery to Europe.
China holds massive reserves of lithium but mostly uses it for its own manufacturing of batteries.
Where to find lithium in Europe?
Portugal is believed to sit on some of Europe’s biggest lithium deposits and as a result has been picked for Europe’s biggest lithium mining and treatment plant.
Compare to other countries with large deposits of lithium
United States — 750,000 MT.
Canada — 530,000 MT.
Zimbabwe — 220,000 MT.
Brazil — 95,000 MT.
Portugal — 60,000 MT.
It’s obvious why Portugal holds a unique advantage for supplying Europe. A UK based mining company Savannah proposed to join forces with Galp to explore what they said will be Europe’s largest lithium mine in Mina do Barroso. This project seems now to be wholly owned by Savannah as Galp did not take up an option they had rights to.
The Mina do Barroso Lithium Project is located in northern Portugal approximately 145 km northeast of Porto and the industrial port of Leixões. Having taken an initial 75 percent stake in the Project in May 2017, Savannah has subsequently become its sole owner and expanded the Project, adding the adjacent, 3 block, ‘Aldeia’ Mining Lease Application to the original granted Mina do Barroso Mining Lease, valid until 2036, (extendable for 20 years). The Project is now well established as Western Europe’s most significant lithium project.
Fierce opposition to the mine
Opposition to the lithium mine has been very strong, but Savannah, advises that its’ wholly owned subsidiary, Savannah Lithium Lda., has been joined as the counter-interested party in litigation brought by the Parish of Covas do Barroso as plaintiff in the Mirandela Fiscal and Administrative Court against the Republic of Portugal and the Ministry of Economy as defendants. The C-100 Mining Lease which contains the Barroso Lithium Project is fully authorised, has a term of 30 years to 2036 and remains in good standing. The advice from Savannah’s lawyers is that the claim is without foundation and will be challenged by Savannah as the counter-interested party alongside exploring all potential options, including making a claim for damages against the plaintiff.
What are the objections to lithium mining in Portugal?
The idyllic landscape near the village of Covas do Barroso is the site of the new open cast lithium mines. Needless to say the local residents are up in arms, in fairness, so would I be if it was near my property. We are all ‘NIMBYS’ at heart (not in my back yard). The chairman of a local action group, Nelson Gomes, says the plan is to mine lithium here in four locations initially. “There will be huge mine dumps, and rivers will be redirected.” “The whole landscape and its ecological balance will be destroyed.” The group’s motto “Yes to life, no to the mine” is seen hanging on more and more facades and traffic signs. “We’ve been involved in sustainable farming for centuries,” Gomes said. “We’re small family-run businesses, keeping afloat without much help from the state — and we’re not going to give this up just like that; we’ll fight against the mine right until the end.”
He may well be right, but this project is too important to the Portuguese economy to be ignored. According to Nuno Forner from the environmental pressure group Zero, foreign companies are interested in mining lithium in Portugal, but less so in refining the mined metal locally. That is no longer factual.
What about the processing of lithium in Portugal?
Once mined lithium needs to be processed and this is where Galp is clearly focusing its efforts. They have formed a joint venture with the Swedish company Northvolt. It’s clear that the lithium needs to be processed in Portugal, not exported for other countries to benefit from Portugal’s ‘white gold’.
Swedish battery storage company Northvolt and Galp have agreed to set up a joint venture called Aurora with the goal to build Europe’s largest and most sustainable integrated lithium conversion plant. The facility in Portugal is set to have an initial annual output capacity of up to 35,000 tonnes of battery grade lithium hydroxide, a material needed in the production of lithium-ion batteries.
That will be sufficient for batteries in about 700,000 electric vehicles.
Galp and Northvolt are still searching for the best site for their lithium conversion plant, which they envisage to start commercial operations in 2026, pending a final investment decision. Some report suggested that Sines was the preferred location, but other locations nearer the mines are under consideration. The plant could represent an investment of about €700m and create up to 1,500 direct and indirect jobs.
It doesn’t take a financial genius to see the obvious facts. Vehicles are going electric. They need batteries, batteries need lithium. Portugal has one of the largest reserved of lithium in Europe. The Barroso Project will produce enough lithium each year for approximately 0.5 million electric vehicle battery packs. Local people will protest, I don’t blame them, but it’s going to happen.
Portugal has ‘white gold’ and Europe wants it, Portugal News writes.
Europe lagging behind securing supplies of the raw materials needed for batteries production
Investments in the EU battery sector reached €60 billion last year, while China invested only €17 billion, EU commissioner Maroš Šefčovič told EURACTIV in a recent interview. This year, Europe has so far invested €25 billion – again twice as much as China, he noted. Since the launch of the “European battery alliance” in 2017, the EU has made a leap forward in its quest to develop a full battery manufacturing value chain.
“In terms of investment levels in Europe, we probably have caught up,” says Andrew McDowell, the European Investment Bank’s vice-president responsible for economics and energy. According to him, there has been “a transformation in the level of ambition” in Europe since the battery alliance was launched in 2017.
“It’s not just about catching up anymore, it’s about Europe taking a leadership position in this industry,” McDowell told reporters during an online briefing in late August.
But the catch up is not over yet. Europe’s Achilles Heel is at the start of the value chain, where raw materials are mined and processed, according to Peter Carlsson, the CEO of Swedish battery maker Northvolt.
“We’re building plants but they need to be supported by raw materials, components and suppliers of equipment,” Carlsson told journalists at the August online briefing.
Northvolt is currently constructing Europe’s first battery gigafactory in northern Sweden, and a second site is planned in Germany following a deal signed with carmaker Volkswagen in July.
“Today, as we’re starting up the factory, we will still be dependent on a lot of suppliers from outside Europe,” Carlsson said, citing raw materials and components as part of a wider battery “ecosystem” that he says should be promoted in Europe.
“This is where we really need to continue strengthening the European ecosystem,” Carlsson said. “It’s going to require focus and investments.”
Developing home production
Raw materials like lithium and cobalt, which are currently imported into Europe, have come under close scrutiny as part of the EU’s push to secure raw materials for battery manufacturing. Demand for lithium is expected to increase 16-fold by the end of the decade and be 60 times larger by 2050, according to European Commission forecasts. Cobalt, another key ingredient for batteries, will also see a spike in demand, growing 500% by 2030 and 15 times by 2050. To address this weakness, the Commission launched an action plan on critical raw materials as well as an industry alliance last September, with the aim of strengthening the EU’s “strategic autonomy” on key raw materials. And the focus is not only on car batteries – sectors such as aerospace, construction, and low-carbon industries are also concerned because they are considered key for the green and digital transitions.
“Today we are acutely aware that this dependency is something we have to take extremely seriously, which is why we created this European Raw Materials Alliance,” Šefčovič said.
The good news is that Europe can quickly become independent on some of them. “For lithium needed for batteries and storage, we’re confident that we can be 80% self-sufficient by 2025,” Šefčovič said, citing mining projects currently under development across Europe and neighbouring countries. In April this year, a lithium mining project in the Czech Republic secured €29.1 million in funding and is expected to become the first EU producer of battery-grade lithium compounds. In July, global mining giant Rio Tinto announced a decision to invest nearly $200 million in a lithium-borate project in Serbia. For rare earths, which are used in magnets founds in wind turbines and electric motors, it will be a longer shot. The EU is currently 100% dependent on imports but the Commission hopes the first European mines could open as soon as 2030.
“We also have rare earth reserves in Europe, which until now, have not been fully explored,” Šefčovič said. “This is why countries like France, Germany, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Greenland and Norway, are looking into it.”
To diversify supplies, Europe is also looking to the Western Balkans – notably, Serbia and Albania – as well as Ukraine, which “have very solid reserves of most of these critical raw materials,” Šefčovič added.
But developing mining at home and diversifying supplies is only part of the answer. The European Commission’s strategy also relies on recycling and green standards for batteries, which could help extract huge amounts of untapped raw materials contained in electric waste. Every year, the EU generates some 9.9 million tonnes of waste electrical and electronic equipment but only 30% of it is collected and recycled, the Commission says. Worse, some valuable raw materials are not recovered because they are too difficult or costly to extract.
“The recovery of critical raw materials from this e-waste stands below 1% because we do not have the necessary technology and industrial processes in place,” Šefčovič said. “If you just collect all the old cell phones we have in our drawers, we can immediately build four million car batteries just from the cobalt,” the commissioner remarked, highlighting the vast untapped potential of so-called “urban mining”.
“This is why we’re funding research and innovation in order to develop these processes,” Šefčovič added, saying the EU is already spending “almost €1 billion” on raw material projects as part of the Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.
Finally, the European Commission is planning stricter green standards for batteries as part of a new battery regulation, expected to be tabled on 9 December, spelling out new standards for batteries, with the aim of reducing the overall carbon and material footprint of batteries manufactured or imported into Europe. This will include “something like battery passports that will ensure easy access to information about key parameters of batteries and their origin,” including the raw materials that went into the manufacturing process, Šefčovič said.
“We also want to make sure that we will be working with raw materials that are traceable and respect ecological, labour and other standards. This is important for European consumers.”
In total, fourteen new measures are expected to form the basis of the new EU batteries regulation, according to Recharge, a trade association representing manufacturers of advanced rechargeable and lithium batteries.
“To put it simply, we want to put the regulation in a form that would provide for mandatory requirements for the greenest, safest and most sustainable batteries on this planet,” Šefčovič told EURACTIV.
The recycling of key raw materials used in the manufacturing of batteries is one of the flagship measures expected in the EU’s updated battery regulation, Recharge said in a briefing paper outlining the main elements of the future EU law. As part of the new rules, the Commission is looking at introducing specific recovery rates for selected materials used in batteries, such as lithium, cobalt and nickel. It also plans to improve the collection rate of used batteries and pave the way for the introduction of mandatory levels of recycled content in new batteries as from 2030.
“Recycling is one of the most effective ways towards an efficient use of our resources in the battery industry. Especially the recovery of high-impact materials brings a true improvement to the environmental and social profile of batteries,” Recharge says. Another flagship measure envisaged by the Commission is the introduction of a due diligence obligation on battery manufacturers, forcing them to trace the materials based on the model of the EU’s Conflict Minerals Regulation, which enters into force in January.
Further measures include the promotion of an aftermarket for used EV batteries and an extended producer responsibility scheme obliging producers of batteries to finance collection, take-back and recycling activities. ECOS, a green NGO, says green standards for batteries are essential to ensure the transition to electro-mobility is done in a truly eco-friendly way.
“We need performant and durable EV batteries, which are easy to repair, reuse and recycle,” said Rita Tedesco from ECOS. “Parameters such as the state of health of the batteries and tests to evaluate them need to be comparable throughout different brands. A minimum set of design standards – such as lifting parts – would make the disassembly process for recycling cheaper, simpler and less time-consuming”.
Protests against Rio Tinto’s future lithium mine in Serbia
Protest was organized in front of the Rio Tinto’s premises in Serbian city Loznica. The citizens of Loznica demanded an urgent suspension of all activities related to the construction of the jadarite/lithium mine and the abandonment of the lithium exploitation project near their city.
Citizens are protesting because they do not know what the ore flotation will look like, how and where the tailings from the mine will be deposited and what impact it will have on the environment, and they express fear that it will be harmful to the environment and health. The protest was organized by the informal citizens’ association for the protection of Gornji Jadra and the Podrinje Anti-Corruption Team (PAKT). Miroslav Mijatović from PAKT told Sputnik that this is only the first protest that there will be more of them, because the health of their children is more important than any “artificial economic progress”.
He states that Rio Tinto came to Serbia with a “long tradition of violating human rights and violating the environment.” He estimates that the opening of the mine will close life in Gornji Jadar, that low-skilled jobs will be created, and fertile land will be lost.
According to him, the potential danger of an environmental accident is much greater than the local one, and the consequences can be felt within a radius of 150 kilometers, which means that not only Loznica is endangered, but also Šabac and Belgrade.
He states that in the past few years, the Faculty of Mining and Geology has earned 100 million and 500 thousand dinars from Rio Tinto, the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering 12 million, the Faculty of Civil Engineering 10, and the Institute of Public Health Belgrade 13.1 million dinars, institutions are auditing all the studies done so far, because the people cannot trust the institutions paid for by Rio Tinto.
The most important request of the protest organizers is the holding of a referendum of the citizens on whether they are for or against the mine.
“Citizens must be asked whether or not they want a mine and under what conditions,” said Mijatović.
Rio Tinto invested half a billion
The mining company, Rio Tinto, whose headquarters are in London, has been present in Serbia since 2007.
In July 2017, Rio Tinto signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Government of Serbia on the project for the development of lithium and pine deposits “Jadar”, and in the middle of last year it announced that it would start exploiting lithium in four years. According to the plan, a feasibility study for the project should be completed by the end of this year.
Rio Tinto has so far invested almost half a million dollars in research. According to “Bloomberg”, the estimated reserves of lithium in Serbia are the largest in Europe, and preliminary research suggests that it could be 200 million tons. The American Geological Institute speculates that it is as much as a million tons of lithium.
European Metals, drillings at lithium-tin project in Czech Republic
Drilling had commenced at the lithium-tin project Cinovec in the Czech Republic, said Mineral mining company European Metals. A total of 19 resource drill holes would be completed during this campaign for a total of 5,550 m, with the first hole ‘well advanced,’ the company said.
Drilling was aimed at converting a ‘sufficient portion of the existing Indicated Mineral Resource to the measured resource category and subsequently to a mineral reserve, to cover the first two years of the scheduled mining plan and obtaining a sufficient amount of ore samples for the next phase of metallurgical testing,’ the company said.
‘A further two hydro-geological drill holes and four geotechnical drill holes are planned once resource drilling has been completed. ‘ it added.
Rio Tinto approved investment for the feasibility study for lithium-borate Jadar project in Serbia
The unique mineral, Jadarite was discovered by Rio Tinto geologists in 2004 near the city of Loznica in Western Serbia. The Jadar deposit contains high-grade mineralisation of boron and lithium supporting a long-life operation in the first quartile of operating costs for both products.
Rio Tinto Energy & Minerals Chief Executive Bold Baatar said “Rio Tinto’s lithium project pipeline is an important part of our vision to pursue opportunities which are part of the transition to a low-carbon future. We look forward to working closely with the Government of Serbia over the next eighteen months as we develop and validate our understanding of the project to the point when we can seek a final investment decision by the Board of Rio Tinto.”
Rio Tinto has approved an additional investment of almost $200 million to progress the next stage of the development of the lithium-borate Jadar project in Serbia. This will primarily fund the feasibility study, including the completion of detailed engineering designs, as well as permitting and land acquisition by the end of 2021, in line with the initial project schedule.
The company completed the detailed exploration of the Jadarite deposit in February 2020. The results of the drilling programme are now being incorporated into an update of the geological model. This update will facilitate a JORC Reserve declaration as part of the feasibility study and also a submission of Elaborate on Reserves, in accordance with the Serbian mineral code.
The development includes an underground mine, an industrial processing facility and all associated infrastructure. The project has the potential to supply the world with a significant amount of end-industrial products for lithium batteries for electric vehicles and energy storage facilities. It would also supply borates which are used in the manufacturing of detergents, cosmetics and other consumer goods.
In parallel, Rio Tinto has also started work on the commissioning of its lithium demonstration plant in the United States, which is extracting lithium from waste rock at its Boron mine in California. This plant could potentially produce 10 tonnes per year of lithium-carbonate needed in rechargeable batteries for electric vehicles and consumer electronics.
Lithium extraction in Europe
The main lithium resources in Europe are located in Serbia (Jadar deposit), Portugal, Spain, Finland and Austria. In France, they can be found in the Massif Central (Beauvoir and Montebras granites, etc.) and the Armorican Massif.
Among the challenges that await Europe and France in “the world to come” is the re-localisation of our supply of essential mineral ores especially lithium. The fact is that France imports almost 100% of its metals and a significant proportion of the strategic minerals that its industry uses. In addition to greater strategic independence, re-localisation would also improve the country’s carbon budget and the economic balance of its productive sectors. With the ongoing climate crisis, importing raw materials from the other side of the world is not a sustainable solution given its high CO2 emissions.
Metals such as nickel, copper, cobalt, lithium and rare earth elements are used in the batteries of our computers, tablets and smartphones, but above all in those used in electric vehicles. Economists agree that there will most likely be a strong increase in the number of electric vehicles in the coming years. Up to now the potential value of France’s mineral resources has been largely underestimated. Indeed, the country has significant resources of industrial minerals as well as metals such as tungsten, antimony, gold, lead, zinc, germanium, copper, lithium and molybdenum.
Lithium is a textbook example. Despite having France’s having substantial resources and growing needs, we continue to import massive quantities of metals from the other side of the world while ignoring those that lie under our feet – today, lithium is primarily extracted in Australia and Chile and refined in China. Yet the raw materials needed for the energy and digital transition are actually right under our feet.
The French subsurface has extensive lithium resources
Lithium-bearing mineral resources are distributed unequally and in several geological formations in France and Europe. There are different lithium concentrations in rocks such as rare metal granites, pegmatites and clay minerals. However, these resources have hardly been exploited and developed to date.
In 2018, BRGM completed an inventory of lithium resources in mainland France that revealed deposits with a definite potential for recovery. The advantages of these deposits are that they include lithium along with industrial rocks and minerals such as feldspars, quartz, kaolin or with metals such as tin, tantalum or tungsten. Were these resources developed, France could be self-sufficient for lithium with a potential production of more than 200,000 tonnes of lithium metal.
Like most of its European neighbours, France currently imports large quantities of the metals needed for its industry. This offshoring of mining sectors allows us to conceal the conditions under which these substances are extracted. If conducted without the necessary standards and controls, this activity can cause environmental damage, including unregulated discharges of waste, and generally do not guarantee workers the necessary standard measures for their protection. It also pose problems in terms of sharing and having access to water in arid regions, for example in the salt flats of South America.
One of the most striking examples is the one illustrated in Guillaume Pitron’s book, La guerre des métaux rares : La face cachée de la transition énergétique et numérique (The Rare Metals War: The Dark Side of Energy Transition and Digitalisation). The author highlights the social, health and safety conditions of mines in Asia that extract rare-earth elements, and also their devastating environmental impacts, in particular the pollution of soil and groundwater.
The technological challenges of re-localisation
When considering the re-localisation of this sector to France, the first issue is scientific. Our researchers (geologists, geochemists, economic geologists) are working to develop innovative methods to better understand how these resources are formed, both for more efficient exploitation and to discover deposits as close as possible to the centres of consumption to reduce the environmental impact.
We will also need to be able to develop methods that can be used all over France, for extracting mineral resources that are adapted to our geology. Lithium resources are diverse, varied and heterogeneously distributed in our subsurface, not all the industrial processes for extracting lithium from the various geological reserves are currently operational. This is due either to technological reasons, or because they are not cost-effective. The energy transition therefore requires innovative research and development for the extraction of these mineral resources, both to make existing processes less harmful from an environmental point of view and to develop new methods. This research activity through collaboration with the academic and university world could leverage growth for the whole sector in France.
A sector encouraged by Europe
At a European level, the EU is working to promote the lithium industry by funding research projects with the European Institute of Innovation and Technology, Raw Materials section, within projects such as the H2020 GeoERA FRAME on European critical metals and through the European Lithium Institute, of which BRGM is one of the founding members.
In the coming months and years, numerous projects for the manufacture of battery factories (“gigafactories”) could also appear in Europe. The short-term objective would be to build an economically strong European sector: a kind of “Airbus of batteries”. In this context, there is no doubt that lithium supply sources will need to be diversified to meet growing demand.
One interesting possibility is the extraction of mineral substances contained in hot aquifers called geothermal waters, located in the Rhine Graben on the German-French border. These mineral-rich thermal waters are currently being exploited for the production of electricity and heat. They are very often rich in lithium and other metals due to the interactions and exchanges between water and rock that occur deep within the Earth. If exploited, they would be a win-win valorisation of the energy resources of our subsurface: the geothermal water is pumped up to produce electricity (the steam is used to drive turbines), but can also produce heat (heat exchanger) and before being reinjected, the mineral substances will be extracted from this brine.
For European stakeholders, the challenges of the coming years will be to learn how to produce lithium locally and sustainably from different geological sources, including respecting local environmental and social issues. This diversification is essential, and must also not overshadow the need to increase our recycling capacity so as to preserve our resources.
Large scale lithium and borate mineralisation in Rekovac, Serbia identified by Jadar Resource
Jadar Resource Limited drilled 8 km widely spaced holes which intersect borate and lithium mineralisation, suggesting a potential for a large-scale mineralisation system. Serbian government welcomes battery metals, Rio Tinto to commence development of $1.4 billion lithium borate project.
Jadar Resources is a diversified mining explorer holding key Gold/Silver and Lithium/Borate assets in the mineral rich jurisdictions across Peru, Serbia and Austria. Backed by robust and experienced management, Jadar is focused on the exploration and development of the mining projects to maximise the value creation for its shareholders and investors.
Jadar in the Prolific Mining Centres Globally
The most recent addition to the Jadar’s arsenal is the Yanamina epithermal gold Project in the Ancash province of Peru in early 2020. The Yanamina project holds a JORC 2012 compliant maiden mineral resource of 6,742,260 tonnes containing over 265,987 ounces of Gold and 934,528 ounces of Silver. The Yanamina gold projects hold a strong prospectivity for large scale mining operation with good operational economics. An exploration program in 2020 has been planned to further upgrade the mineral resources for the gold-silver project.
Jadar owns 80% stake in the Weinebene and Eastern Alps Lithium Projects in Austria. The project is located in the neighbourhood of significant Lithium discoveries including European Lithium Limited’s Wolfsberg lithium deposit which holds over 11 Mt of mineral resources with 1.0% Li2O.
In addition, Jadar wholly owns the Lithium & Borate projects of Rekovac, Vranje South and Cer. The explorer has prioritised the Rekovac project among its Serbian assets. The Rekovac Lithium-Borate project stretches across a 75.4 square kilometres area with Sedimentary lithium borate deposits.
Jadar’s Serbian Presence, Reconnaissance Drilling Program Completed
The Rekovac Lithium-Borate project is situated in the World class Vardar geological zone of Central Serbia and showcases similar geological setting to the Jadar Basin which hosts one of the largest lithium deposit globally, Rio Tinto’s Jadarite which holds mineral resources of 135.7 Mt @ 1.86% Li2O and 15.4% B2O3. Earlier in May, Jadar announced the assay results for the maiden reconnaissance diamond drilling program at the Rekovac project. The company intersected preserved Borate and Lithium mineralisation in both holes, suggesting the site could hold a large mineral system.
The drilling program which commenced in February discovered new Lithium and Borate mineralisation intersections at 2 holes namely, REK_001 and REK_002 totalling over 1,238.1 metres. The diamond drill hole REK_001 was drilled to a vertical depth of 600.1 metres while REK_002 was drilled to 638 metres, collecting over 339 core samples which were geochemically assayed with 16 samples further being analysed for x-ray diffraction for further analysis on the mineral rock composition and identification.
The drilling program targeted the gravity anomalies, which indicated Neogene basin, which during the previous sampling and assaying results indicated the potential for lithium-boron rich discoveries. The drilling intercepts included multiple segments of boron sequences. Boron is interpreted to be present in the sodium borosilicate (Searlesite with up to 60,858 ppm B2O3) and Lithium clay mineral with Li2O grades (up to 969 ppm Li2O). The drill hole REK_001 intersected 2 sequences of the encapsulated mineralisation represented by searlesite in irregular veinlets and wafered parallel sheets of mm-sized crystals from 515.9 metres and 195 metres of borate rich mineralisation from 405 metres downhole.
The 2.5 metre intercepts with over 10,000 ppm of B2O3 and up to 484 ppm Li2O from 515.9 metres are follows:
– 0.6 metres with 16,454 ppm B2O3 and 474 ppm Li2O from 515.9 metres
-1.9 metres with 12,349 ppm B2O3 and 484 ppm Li2O from 578.5 metres
The drill hole REK_002 is located almost 1.8 metres south of the first drill hole, with the drilling intersecting 5 mineralised sequences with dominating mineral as searlesite in the form of irregular veinlets and layer from 35 metres and very thin distributed nodules from 98.8 metres downhole. REK-002 hole included 171 metres of intercept holding B2O3 with grades exceeding 10,000 ppm and up to 969 ppm Li2O from 35 metres downhole with 49.6 metres holding over 20,000 ppm of B2O3 and up to 624 ppm Li2O from 51.5m.
Further intervals and coring samples with greater than 10,000 ppm of B2O3 will be analysed further by sodium hydroxide fusion and ICP high grade analysis for boron and lithium contents. With the drilling program striking significant boron and lithium mineralisation in both the drilling holes indicating the presence of a much larger mineralisation system. The gravity survey further indicated that the Rekovac basin remains open to the north and south with a potential to host extensive mineralisation system within the project area.
The completion of the drilling program marks a milestone which enables Jadar to complete all mandatory procedures to extend the Rekovac project license for the next 3 years. The extension notice from the Serbian Ministry of Mines and Energy is anticipated in the near term.
Jadar is advancing aggressively on the Yanamina and Serbian Lithium-Borate projects with further exploration plans in 2020 and is committed to the exploration and development of the projects to maximise the value creation for its shareholders and investors.