While the Imerys group announced a big mining operation in Allier, Le Figaro brings up this light and conductive metal that will become more and more in demand over the next few years.
Automobiles électriques, téléphones portables, instruments électroniques… Lithium, which is required for the production of a wide variety of items used daily, inspires intense desire. The Imerys firm in France said on Monday that they will begin mining a lithium deposit in the Allier region by the year 2027. This comes as many large countries, such as China, are attempting to guarantee their supply of lithium. The goal is to invest roughly one billion euros to mine this deposit over the next quarter of a century, taking into account both the concentrations and the volumes “were deemed “quite interesting” by the judges.
But what are some applications for lithium? Why is it such a significant factor? Does France have deposits? Le Figaro offers an update on this crucial component, which is especially important for the automotive industry concerning electric cars.
What exactly is lithium?
After going through the refining and transforming processes, lithium takes on the appearance of a white powder. Lithium is an alkali metal. “Didier Julienne, president of Commodities & Resources, argues that it is superior to all other materials in its capacity to store power. “It has the characteristic of being able to store electricity far better than any other materials.” Because of this, lithium is one of the important components that go into the making of batteries for electric vehicles. This metal is also utilized in the production of the batteries that power portable electronic devices like mobile phones and rechargeable batteries.
The production of lithium can come from one of two different sources: either the mining of deposits of titaniferous rocks, which contain lithium silicoaluminates, or the mining of brines that come from salt lakes that have partially dried up, which are referred to as salt pans “salars, and are found primarily in the highlands of Tibet and the Altiplano of the Andes. Additionally, the completion of the European EuGeLi project in December 2021 made it feasible for the very first manufacturing of lithium carbonate to be derived from the geothermal waters of Europe.
The price of a kilogram of lithium is currently close to 70 euros. “Because of the rapid expansion of the electric vehicle market, we are currently dealing with a great deal of conjecture about this metal, as Didier Julienne says. The price per kilogram was often between 18 and 20 euros on average.
Why is it necessary to do?
The European Union, which has given itself the goal of abandoning the internal combustion engine car by the year 2035 to reduce its emissions of greenhouse gases, has many projects in the works for electric battery factories, but it is suffering from a severe lack of essential raw materials such as lithium. “Because the European Union has set a target date of 2050 to achieve carbon neutrality, this entails a rise in demand for lithium that is magnified by a factor of forty. According to Yves Jégourel, co-director of Cyclope and professor holder of the chair Economics of raw materials at the National Conservatory of Arts and Crafts, “It is the mineral resource whose usage is predicted to expand the most.” Additionally, it has been determined that this one is “in the year 2020, crucial to the European Commission. Lithium only makes up five percent to nine percent of an electric vehicle's battery, with nickel making up the majority of the remaining components.
According to information provided by MinéralInfo, a French portal for non-energy mineral resources, lithium was utilized for the production of batteries at a rate of 58% in 2018, up from a rate of 20% in 2008. Its global total consumption of it climbed by 142% over a decade, going from 21,000 tonnes in 2008 to approximately 51,000 tonnes in 2018. This is an increase.
Where does today's lithium originate, exactly?
According to the data provided by Didier Julienne, president of Commodities & Resources, Australia is by far the top producer of lithium from the mining industry. Australia is responsible for producing 43% of the world's total lithium supply. Chile produces 26% of the world's total, which places it in the second position, after only China (13%), Argentina (6%), and the United States (1%).
In addition to this, the following five multinational corporations – “majors stand out as distinct competitors in the market. According to the French portal for non-energy mineral resources, the three most important historical producers are the Chilean company SQM (Sociedad Qumica y Minera de Chile), the American companies Livent (formerly FMC Corp.) and Albemarle Corp., both based in the United States, and Livent from the United States.
Tianqi Lithium and Jiangxi Ganfeng Lithium are two Chinese firms that have developed significantly in the lithium market in just a few short years. Both of these companies have various investments in mining projects located outside of China. Tianqi is a co-operator of the enormous Greenbushes deposit near Albermarle, which is located in Australia.
What products can be made using the extracted lithium?
After it has been retrieved, the metal can be put to immediate use in the industries of glass or ceramics. However, for batteries to function properly, they must be altered. China's strong position in the value chain may be seen at this particular stage, which has existed for several years. Particularly noteworthy are the substantial expenditures made at this level by the two Chinese enterprises known as Tianqi Lithium and Jiangxi Ganfeng Lithium.
However, Europe is taking an interest in the topic to gain some degree of sovereignty over this metal and to lessen its reliance on China. The fact that a mineral purification and lithium hydroxide processing plant are included in the mining project that was initiated on Monday is evidence of this proposition. The identical situation applies to the Vulcan Energy project in Germany. The United States of America, Canada, and Australia have all announced their intentions to compete.
Where exactly are the deposits in France, and can they be mined for their resources?
At this point, three different regions in France have been recognized as having the potential to contain lithium deposits. To begin, there is the area to the north of the Massif Central that is currently being considered for the Imerys site. Alsace is home to both the Armorican Massif and the Rhine Valley, both of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. “On these three zones, there may be exploitable zones; however, additional research work needs to be carried out, in particular, to ensure that the lithium concentration is sufficient there. “, said Christophe Poinssot, Deputy Director General of the Geological and Mining Research Bureau (BRGM), adding that additional lithium deposits in France that are still unknown may exist.
The lithium is extracted from geothermal brine in the Massif Central and the Armorican Massif, while in Alsace the process begins with mining the deposits. “The resource can be accessed easily, but there is some debate over whether or not it can be maintained. The question has not been answered. According to the BRGM, “at this time, it is not operating.”  In the case of mining deposits, it is estimated that around ten years of preparation are required before the launch of a new project.
What about the effect on the surrounding ecosystem?
Others are concerned about the effect that lithium mining initiatives will have on the surrounding ecosystem. “The notion that there is such a thing as a clean mine needs to go! Communication and flexibility are the keys to success here. “We do not know how to extract material from the subsoil in a clean way, because a mine always involves a large chemical processing plant nearby, which leads to exploitation, and ultimately pollution, of water and quantities significant amount of waste that we do not know how to manage,” was particularly irritated Antoine Gatet, vice-president of France nature environment (FNE), this Monday. Get made these statements during a meeting of the FNE.
It is not unusual for projects to spark controversy in the surrounding community. At the beginning of the year 2022, the government of Serbia decided to put an end to Rio Tinto's plan to run a lithium mine in Jadar. In question, the large mobilization of local residents and members of environmental organizations over the course of several weeks.