You have no doubt noticed that there has been a lot of talk, really a lot about lithium in recent years. This element is indeed at the heart of the technology of rechargeable batteries in electric cars, smartphones, tablets, headphones, and other laptop computers or industrial energy storage plants.
There are more than lead, for example, which is not particularly rare: it is quite simply the 33rd most abundant element on Earth. Which doesn’t mean it’s always easy to extract.
Alsace contains a real treasure in its subsoil
Because of its properties and its high reactivity, it is found in the overwhelming majority of cases as an impurity in other compounds such as lithium chloride (in the brines of certain old continental salt lakes). But also in silicates such as spodumene, petalite and pegmalite.
Or in a kind of clay called hectorite resulting from the alteration of certain volcanic rocks, rhassoul, Moroccan clay rich in stevensite and lithium, or in jadarite, a compound of the borate family. Therefore, despite its high abundance, there are ultimately quite a few places on Earth where the extraction of ore with a high lithium content and its transformation into metal is sufficiently profitable.
This is pushing many countries, including France, to conduct campaigns in search of viable deposits. Currently, the world’s largest deposit (soon to be exploited) is in Bolivia (Uyuni Salt Flat): it would contain up to a third of the world’s reserves. There is also the Atacama salt flats in Chile, one of the leading sources of Lithium in the world since 1997, with deposits in China. Another major ore reserve, the Salar del Hombre Muerto in Argentina.
France, soon to be an exporting country?
Western Australia also has significant deposits of pegmatite in the mines of the Greenbushes and of Mount Cattlin. They are also found in Russia, in dry lakes in Tibet, in the United States and in Zimbabwe. Europe would be relatively badly endowed in deposits, but according to a study by the French Bureau of Geological and Mining ResearchFrance would be rather lucky with large deposits in the Massif Central, but also in the geothermal brines in Alsace.
According to their first conclusions, the country could become largely self-sufficient in Lithium, with production exceeding 200,000 tonnes of metal per year. Lithium from France is particularly interested in Alsatian deposits. And apparently, the region’s subsoil potential is beginning to attract foreign firms. This is the case of the Australian startup Vulcan Energy which has just announced its intention to establish itself in the region.
Vulcan Energy is the figurehead of Europe’s largest lithium extraction project. The firm now counts among its investors big names from the old continent, such as Renault, Stellantis and Volkswagen. A first application for an operating license has been submitted for an area of 155 km2 to the east of Haguenau in the Bas-Rhin. And since the requests for permits are multiplying in Alsace.
According to the startup, by exploiting the geothermal waters of the region it would be possible to extract the precious metal using a neutral method in terms of carbon emissions. A tremendous hope for the country and for the energy transition.