Lithium mining to begin early 2020
Portugal’s minister for the Environment and Action on Climate says that lithium mining in the north of the country will go ahead in the first quarter of 2020.
Minister João Matos Fernandes says that he has on his desk a draft ‘white paper’ with “new environmental measures” which if passed by Parliament approves means that mining can start in Q1 of 2020.
Portugal has the 6th largest deposits of lithium in the word with 60,000 tonnes after Chile (8 million tonnes), Australia (2,700,000 tonnes), Argentina (2 million tonnes), China (1 million tonnes), Zimbabwe (70,000 tonnes).
The minister said, “In order for the Government to issue prospection and mining rights and a future concession for the nine locations which have lithium deposits, there has to be a new law which contains a number of guarantees and provisions from the start, namely environmental safeguards.”
He said this week that only after the law is approved can the “trender competition for the lithium mining concession be launched because it has to be ratified by the President of the Republic but I believe that before the end of the first quarter the exploration process will begin.”
João Matos Fernandes says that lithium exploration represents a “great opportunity” for Portugal” and that the proposals have to be “dovetailed with a new legal framework.”
The Portuguese Government wants to create a “lithium cluster” in 2020 for the manufacture of batteries and is to launch a competitive tender bid for the mining rights in nine areas of the country.
The project is also part of a proposal enshrined in the Portuguese State Budget for 2020: “To launch a public tender for prospection and mining rights and associated mineral deposit prospection on nine areas of national territory.”
The Government says that it wants to pursue a “sustainable exploration of existing lithium reserves” and develop an industrial complex around the resource that would enable considerable leverage in the value chain “beyond mere extraction and exportation” and invest in metalurgy and value added industrial activities such as battery manufacturing.
Portugal has had a difficult mining history with labour and unions and suffers from the high price of the Euro but may prove to be a beneficial destination for lithium production from a European perspective.
Close proximity to European automotive manufacturers would provide desirable supply for the product which has traditionally been sold for glass & ceramics. At present, lithium mined in Portugal goes exclusively to the ceramics industry, where it is used as a flux in furnaces.
The production of one ton of lithium carbonate from pegmatites in Portugal, costs €4,450, considerably more expensive than the alternative. Since one MT of lithium carbonate obtained from brine costs only around €1,780 on average.
The great challenge for Portugal, as for other relatively high-cost jurisdictions, is to devise a refining process that obtains a high purity and hence high added value lithium.
Lithium mining is controversial on environmental and health grounds, however, as prolonged exposure to lithium can cause fluid build-up in the lungs and lead to dropsy. The metal itself is a handling hazzard because of the caustic hydroxide produced when it is in contact with water causing an explosion. Lithium mining also carries high environmental costs.
In May 2016, hundreds of protestors threw dead fish onto the streets of Tagong, a town on the eastern edge of the Tibetan plateau. They had plucked them from the waters of the Liqi river, where a toxic chemical leak from the Ganzizhou Rongda Lithium mine had wreaked havoc with the local ecosystem.
Lithium is a reactive alkali metal used to power mobile phones, tablets, laptops and electric cars as well as manufacturing some medcines.
Locals living in the Douro region where the mines would be located are concerned over health risks while the region itself is a World Heritage Site of Oustanding Natural Beauty and a Demarcated Wine Region – the oldest in the world.