France: Europe Should Re-Localize Lithium Supply

It was reported that Europe's lithium resources are mainly 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 in "the world to come" is the re-localization of the supply of essential mineral ores. The fact is that France imports almost 100% of its metals and a significant proportion of the strategic minerals that its industrial uses.

In addition to greater strategic independence, re-localization will also improve the French carbon budget and the economic balance of the production sector. With the ongoing climate crisis, importing raw materials from the other side of the world is not a sustainable solution due to high carbon dioxide emissions.

A worker in the Barroso mine in Portugal image

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. So far, the potential value of French mineral resources has been underestimated. In fact, France has rich industrial mineral resources and metal resources such as tungsten, antimony, gold, lead, zinc, germanium, copper, and molybdenum.

Li is a textbook example. Despite having French 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, the mineral is primarily extracted in Australia and Chile and refined in China.

The French underground has abundant lithium resources. In Europe, Li-bearing mineral resources are unevenly distributed and distributed in multiple geological formations. In rare metal granite, pegmatite and clay minerals, the content of Li is different. However, these resources have hardly been exploited so far.

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 Li along with industrial rocks and minerals such as feldspars, quartz, kaolin, or with metals such as tin, tantalum, or tungsten. Were these resources developed, the country could be self-sufficient for Li with a potential production of more than 200,000 tons of Li metal.

Like most of its European neighbors, 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 poses problems in terms of sharing and having access to water in arid regions, for example in the salt flats of South America.

Researchers in France (geologists, geochemists, economic geologists) are working to develop innovative methods to better understand how these resources are formed, which is conducive to more efficient mining and discovery to keep mineral deposits as close as possible to the consumer center to reduce the impact on the environment, and to realize the Re-localization of lithium supply in Europe.