France sets sights on ‘lithium club’

France sets sights on ‘lithium club’

Lithium de France has successfully completed its latest funding round, raising EUR 44 million after equity was allotted to institutional buyers including Arverne Group, Equinor Ventures and Hydro. It is worth nothing that Arverne Group, the main investor in Lithium de France, implements geothermal projects in France, Equinor Ventures is a subsidiary of Norwegian oil and gas corporation Equinor, which invests in promising startups, while Hydro is one of the world’s largest aluminium producers.

As for Lithium de France, it plans to extract lithium from geothermal brine discovered in northern Alsace. The company has already conducted pilot exploration work to identify the areas where it will drill wells to produce lithium commercially.

The plans reflect a major trend, with France seeking to become a member of a global ‘lithium club’ and capture a significant share of the global lithium market, which is booming as a result of increased electric vehicle production. The discovery is not without precedent: according to geological data, six lithium deposits have been found in France including in the Beauvoir kaolin quarry, the Montebras feldspars and the gold deposit at Le Châtelet. 35 showings of lithium have also been discovered.

It is worth noting that the ore sites have been discovered over the last few decades, while investigations into France’s geothermal waters for the presence of lithium began relatively recently. Their potential is nevertheless quite significant, given the reserves of lithium in the groundwater of neighbouring Germany.

The French ferronickel producer Eramet is also following Lithium de France’s lead, and has signed off on a long-term cooperation project with Électricité de Strasbourg to study the prospects for obtaining lithium from geothermal waters in the east of France. According to Eramet estimates, they could generate up to 10,000 tons of lithium carbonate, the basic raw material for the manufacture of lithium-ion car batteries, every year.

But Eramet isn’t putting all of its eggs in one basket. It has also embarked on a joint project with Chinese nickel producer Tsingshan to produce 24,000 tons of lithium carbonate from Argentina’s salt flats. The project is currently on hold as a result of the challenging political and economic situation in Argentina, where investments are at greater risk against the backdrop of a stagnating global economy.

Imerys is emerging as a competitor to Lithium de France and Eramet. The company intends to develop the Beauvoir deposit, which is home to kaolin, a refractory clay with a high concentration of lithium. Imerys plans to commence mining at Beauvoir by 2028 and achieve an annual output of 34,000 tons of lithium hydroxide, which is a much more expensive product than lithium carbonate.

The Viridian startup also plans to produce 25,000 tons of lithium hydroxide per year, and is threatening to overtake Imerys. The company wants to launch a lithium hydroxide plant in 2025, which could boost its capacity to 100,000 tons annually by 2030. The lithium carbonate Viridian would require for this is set to be imported from Latin America.

All of these companies have a fight on their hands. In 2022, global lithium production (calculated based on equivalent carbonate output) stood at around 470,000 tons, while demand could reach 2.3 million tons by 2023. It is expected that 30 million electric cars will be produced around the world each year by 2030, with France accounting for 2 million. icon

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