The industrial minerals group Imerys announced on Monday October 24 the start of mining by 2027 of a lithium deposit in the Allier in France (center), which will be “one of the greatest” of Europe, and will serve to accelerate the energy transition by supplying the electric car industry.
The planned investment amounts to one billion euros to exploit for at least 25 years a deposit whose “concentrations and quantities” were judged “very attractive” after 18 months of underground drilling and studies, Imerys said in a press release.
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The deposit “should provide a sustainable and competitive domestic source of supply for French and European car manufacturers and would greatly contribute to meeting the challenges of the energy transition” said Alessandro Dazza, CEO of Imerys.
Should lithium be exploited in France?
Lithium is one of the essential components of batteries intended to replace fossil fuels for cars. He was identified as ” critical “ by the European Commission in 2020.
The European Union, which has set itself the goal of abandoning the thermal car in 2035 in order to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, has many projects for electric battery factories, but is sorely lacking in critical raw materials. such as lithium, of which China has a virtual monopoly, as well as that of batteries.
More than 30,000 tonnes of lithium per year over 25 years
Since 1850, the Beauvoir site in the Allier has housed a quarry producing some 30,000 tonnes of kaolin each year, used in the manufacture of porcelain and tiling. It was bought in 2005 by Imerys.
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Since the 1960s, the Geological and Mining Research Bureau (BRGM) has identified the presence of lithium in the subsoil of this site, but Imerys has so far remained extremely cautious about the possibility of exploiting it, claiming until last spring that he had no confirmation of the lithium content or the methods to be used to extract it profitably.
“In 2021 and 2022, Imerys invested 30 million euros”including one million in public funds from a French recovery plan, to finance extensive exploration and analysis of the site.
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“According to the first estimates, the project would make it possible to reach a production of 34,000 tons of lithium hydroxide per year for a duration of at least 25 years”the statement said. “This would be one of the largest lithium mining projects in the European Union, and could once fully operational equip the equivalent of 700,000 electric vehicles with lithium-ion batteries”adds Imerys.
The group estimates its production costs “between 7 and 9 euros per kilo”which would guarantee “an attractive return on investment”.
In the long term, it promises 1,000 direct and indirect jobs in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, spread over two sites. The first will be the underground lithium extraction mine, embedded in a mica rock. And the second a mineral purification and lithium hydroxide processing plant, which would be located less than 100 kilometers from the mine and connected by rail.