French minerals company Imerys said on Monday it wanted to become the leading supplier of lithium in Europe through a mining project in France.
The announcement comes as European miners are rushing to launch domestic production of the raw material, a key component for electric vehicle production, currently sourced almost entirely from outside the bloc.
Imerys said results of surveys carried out at its Beauvoir mine in the Allier department in central France allow it to produce 34,000 tonnes of lithium hydroxide for at least 25 years from 2028 to supply around 700,000 electric cars.
Electric cars are a key plank of European Union plans to cut emissions, and the bloc is trying to reduce reliance on battery supplies from Asia through projects with European-based carmakers and battery specialists.
Almost all the critical minerals currently come from outside the continent, with China dominating the global supply chain. The world’s main lithium suppliers also include Australia and Argentina.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said last month that “lithium and rare earths will soon be more important than oil and gas”, adding the bloc’s demand for rare earths alone will increase fivefold by 2030.
Various miners are exploring domestic European lithium projects including in Austria, Germany and the Czech Republic.
Imery’s French rival Eramet is exploring a project in the Alsace region.
The French project is estimated to involve construction capex of around 1 billion euros, Imerys said, adding that cash cost of the lithium project is estimated to be around 7-9 euros per kilo.
The Beauvoir site has been producing kaolin for ceramics since the late 19th century.
In Serbia, a domestic mining project has been facing stiff opposition from the local population.
(By Dominique Vidalon; Editing by Tassilo Hummel)