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Paris-based mining giant Imerys plans to develop a lithium recovery project. It is hoped it will help meet demand and secure supply in Europe’s booming electric vehicle market.
Imerys said in a statement on Monday that its Emili project, which will be located at a site in central France, aims to produce 34,000 tonnes of lithium hydroxide a year from 2028.
According to the business, this level of production would be enough to “equip approximately 700,000 electric vehicles per year.”
In addition to being used in mobile phones, computers, tablets and many other devices that are integral to modern life, lithium – dubbed “platinum” by some – is vital to the batteries that power electric vehicles.
The project Imerys envisions is taking shape as major economies such as the European Union look to increase the number of electric vehicles on the road.
The EU plans to stop the sale of new diesel and petrol cars and vans from 2035. Britain, which left the European Union on January 31, 2020, is pursuing a similar goal.
Faced with growing demand for lithium, the European Union, which France is part of, is working to strengthen its own supply and reduce its reliance on the rest of the world.
In a translation of her State of the Union speech last month, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said “lithium and rare earths will soon be more important than oil and gas.”
In addition to supply security, Von der Leyen, who switched multiple languages in her speech, also emphasized the importance of processing.
“Today, China controls the global processing industry,” she said. “Almost 90% … of rare earths and 60% of lithium are processed in China.”
“So we will identify strategic projects all along the supply chain, from extracting to refining, from processing to recycling,” she added. “And we will build up strategic reserves where supply is at risk.”
Back in France, Imerys said it was finalizing what it described as a “technical scoping study” in order to “explore various operational options and refine geological and industrial aspects relating to the lithium extraction and processing method.”
Since the late 19th century, the site chosen for the project has been used to produce a clay called kaolin, which is used in the ceramic industry.
Imerys added that the construction investment of the proposed lithium project is estimated to be around 1 billion euros (about 980 million U.S. dollars).
“Upon successful completion, the project would contribute to the French and European Union’s energy transition ambitions,” the company said. “It would also increase Europe’s industrial sovereignty at a time when car and battery manufacturers are heavily dependent on imported lithium, which is a key element in the energy transition.”
A number of factors have weighed on the supply of materials critical to electric vehicles in recent years, an issue highlighted by the International Energy Agency in its Global Electric Vehicle Outlook earlier this year.
“The rapid increase in Electric Vehicle sales during the pandemic has tested the resilience of battery supply chains, and Russia’s war in Ukraine has further exacerbated the challenge,” the International Energy Agency’s report noted, adding that prices of materials like lithium, cobalt and nickel have soared.
“In May 2022, lithium prices were over seven times higher than at the start of 2021,” it added. “Unprecedented battery demand and a lack of structural investment in new supply capacity are key factors.”
In a recent interview with CNBC, the Mercedes-Benz CEO outlined what he sees as the current state of the raw materials needed for electric vehicles and their batteries.
“Raw material prices have been quite volatile in the last 12 to 18 months, some have spiked and actually some have come back down again,” Ola Kallenius said.
“But it is true as we become electric, all-electric and more and more automakers go into the electric space, there is a need to increase mining capacities and refining capacities for lithium, nickel, and some of those raw materials that are needed to produce electric cars.”
“We have everything that we need now, but we need to look into the mid to long-term and work with the mining industry here to increase capacities.”
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