Eramet SA announced on Tuesday it had extracted lithium from geothermal salt water in a pilot in eastern France, in a breakthrough it said could boost European efforts to secure raw materials for electric vehicles.
Eramet obtained the lithium from brine at the Rittershoffen geothermal power plant operated by Electricite de Strasbourg (ES) near Germany during tests conducted in early 2021, the companies said in a joint statement.
“This is a world first in the field of lithium,” they said.
The pilot is part of the European Geothermal Lithium Brine (EuGeLi) project, in which German chemicals group BASF is also participating.
The project aims by the end of this year to have scaled up extraction to produce lithium carbonate, a component of lithium-ion batteries, and to be able to assess the economic potential of geothermal lithium extraction, Eramet and ES said.
The European Union last year added lithium to its critical raw materials list as essential for a shift towards electric vehicles and energy storage.
The Upper Rhine Valley along the French-German border has also attracted interest from Germany’s power and mining companies, keen to tap the zone’s large estimated geothermal lithium resources to supply a booming electric-car sector.
Outside Europe, Canada’s Standard Lithium Ltd is testing lithium extraction from brine that is a byproduct of bromine production facilities run by Germany’s Lanxess in the US state of Arkansas.
Eramet said it had adapted a process developed for a lithium deposit it owns in Argentina to make it suitable for hot brine.
The mining group suspended its Argentine project a year ago, citing economic uncertainty linked to the covid-19 pandemic as well as instability in Argentina.
(By Gus Trompiz and Ludwig Burger; Editing by Matthew Lewis)