The countdown begins. 2035 will mark the end of sales of thermal vehicles in the European Union in favor of electric vehicles. In France, for example, the objective is the production of 2 million electric vehicles by 2030. But who says production of electric vehicles, says production of batteries to power these vehicles. Supplying lithium battery factories is therefore a crucial issue that Europe must face.
Lithium, the new “white gold”
If Lithium catches all the attention around the world, it is because it is a metal with extraordinary properties. The main characteristics of lithium are its high electrochemical reactivity, its specific heat, its low coefficient of thermal expansion (dilation). These unique properties make lithium suitable for a wide range of applications, such as the manufacture of glasses and ceramics, for which it reduces the viscosity and lowers the melting point (for glasses) or the firing temperature (for ceramics). The major application of lithium, however, is energy storage in the form of lithium-ion batteries, a business area that is (by far) experiencing the fastest growth. In 2025, the battery sector should thus represent more than half of the demand for the global lithium market. Today, the world's lithium supply is mainly provided by Australia (48%), Chile (22%) and China (17%). A few hundred tons come from Portugal. Production has exploded in recent years, as well as its price, which has multiplied by five in one year.
France and Europe want to overturn the hierarchy
Europe, which depends overwhelmingly on China and Australia for its lithium supplies, has launched dozens of giga factories projects on its soil, reflecting the importance of the issue of sovereignty over battery production. It is in this context that the French group Imerys, specialist in industrial minerals, announced the launch of a lithium mining project in the city of Beauvoir, in the center of the country. The plant will be operational in 2027. "Today, Europe is entirely dependent on lithium imports from abroad. This project will represent 35,000 tons of lithium hydroxide, capable of equipping the equivalent of 700,000 cars, per year", said Alessandro Dazza, general manager of the group. For his part, Bruno Le Maire, Minister of Economy, Finance and Industrial and Digital Sovereignty declared: “I welcome the launch by Imerys of the first low-carbon lithium operation in France. This project, exemplary in environmental and climatic terms, will drastically reduce our lithium import needs and will enable the production of nearly 700,000 electric vehicle batteries per year. It will contribute to the objective set by the President of the Republic to produce 2 million electric vehicles in France by 2030 and will be supported by the Government. »
However, a few downsides have to be highlighted. The most important one is that lithium extraction technique chosen by Imerys, the same as in Australia and China, is not without consequences for the environment. The process is very energy-intensive and requires large amounts of water. This project therefore risks being an environmental headache. French environmental protection organizations are already mobilizing on this project.
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