The figures are clear. To ensure its energy transition and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, Europe will need astronomical quantities of metals and in particular lithium, the star ingredient in electric batteries. According to Brussels, the European Union will require 18 times more lithium than it does today by 2030. This lithium is so strategic that it has been included in the Union’s list of critical metals. And by 2040, lithium demand will even be multiplied by 42 according to calculations by the International Energy Agency.
But for now, Europe imports all of the lithium it uses, as white metal production is concentrated in a handful of countries. Australia, where the metal is trapped in spodumene rock, supplies over 50% of the world’s lithium. In Latin America, the salt lakes in the lithium triangle, straddling Argentina, Chile and Bolivia, are the second source of white gold on the planet. The transformation of the metal into a refined product entering the batteries is ensured at nearly 60% in China, warns the International Energy Agency in a recent report which is concerned about this extreme concentration. This poses an immense risk for the supply of metals to Europe. Only one lithium mine is active in Europe, in Portugal: it extracts 1,200 tonnes per year which are used by the ceramics industry.