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Inorganic Chemicals

Europe is poised to begin lithium mining

A series of mines could open across Europe in the next few years

by Alex Scott
June 2, 2021 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 99, Issue 21


A photo of miners looking at a big pile of ore.
Credit: European Lithium
European Lithium wants to start mining lithium in Austria by the end of 2023.

The development of Europe’s first lithium mines to supply the region’s electric-vehicle battery industry is gathering pace, with several companies saying they are on course to open mines in the next few years. These firms claim their operations, which in some cases have raised concerns among local residents, will have lower environmental footprints than those of producers outside the region.

The mining firm Keliber has firmed up plans to start producing 15,000 metric tons (t) per year of battery-grade lithium hydroxide from 625,000 t of lithium-rich spodumene rock that it will mine in western Finland by the end of 2024. Keliber recently increased its estimate of the size of its lithium deposit, in Rapasaari, Finland, by 31% to 8.1 million t.

Meanwhile, Savannah Resources has provided authorities an environmental impact assessment of its plan to mine 175,000 t of spodumene in northern Portugal. Savannah raised $14.5 million from investors in April to fund its operations.

In Germany’s Upper Rhine Valley, Vulcan Energy Resources says it has successfully tested the recovery of lithium and geothermal energy by injecting brine deep underground, in what it claims is a carbon-neutral extraction process. Cornish Lithium and Geothermal Engineering earlier this year won exploration rights for a similar process to be carried out in the sea near Cornwall, in southwest England.

Feasibility studies for lithium mining projects are also underway at Rio Tinto in Serbia and European Lithium in Austria. Manufacturers of materials for lithium-ion batteries, including BASF, have been actively seeking supply deals with firms mining in Europe. The region now imports all of the lithium needed for its rapidly growing battery industry.



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