Europe is seeking to expand its lithium mining and refining capacity and wean itself off imports from China and other countries as the “white gold” becomes a vital resource in the fight against climate change.
Alongside nickel and cobalt, lithium allows electricity to be stored and transported, making them essential in electric battery production as car manufacturers move away from polluting fossil fuels.
But Europe mostly depends on external sources for the strategically important and increasingly coveted metals.
Australia is the world’s biggest lithium producer, while China is home to 60% of global lithium refining, transforming the metal into carbonate or lithium hydroxide.
The increasingly urgent subject was on the agenda of EU ministers and officials at a conference in Paris on Thursday. It will also be on the menu when EU industry ministers gather in the northern French city of Lens on January 31 and February 1.
Europe ‘Not on Map’
Europe “really is not on the map” when it comes to mining or processing lithium, according to Robert Colbourn, an analyst at Benchmark Mineral Intelligence.
“There are a lot of lithium mines in development today in Europe, or projects trying to come online, but really there is no lithium production” of battery quality, he told AFP.
The International Energy Agency predicts global demand for lithium will be 40 times greater by 2040, with 475,000 tonnes of lithium produced in 2021.
But Europe will not even meet more than 30% of its lithium, nickel and cobalt needs in 2030, according to a report submitted to the French government this week.
“Our forecast is that by 2030 Europe is probably going to need over 500,000 tons of lithium a year, which is bigger than the world market today,” said Colbourn, adding that battery production was driving the soaring demand.
The European Union recently added lithium to its list of critical metals.
- AFP with additional editing by George Russell