European lithium mining companies, an emerging industry

Lithium, an increasingly vital element in electric vehicle batteries and energy storage, has seen surging demand in recent years. While South America’s Lithium Triangle has dominated global production, Europe is now moving to develop its own lithium resources.

Historically, lithium mining in Europe has been very limited. Small volumes were extracted from deposits in countries like Portugal, Spain and the Czech Republic in the mid-20th century, but high extraction costs made large-scale mining uneconomical. However, with today’s electric vehicle boom and the EU’s push for a low-carbon economy, European lithium resources have become more strategically important.

Several companies are now exploring Europe’s lithium potential, especially in countries like Germany, Serbia, Portugal and Finland. For example, European Lithium Ltd is developing a lithium project in Austria, while Savannah Resources is advancing projects in Portugal. The European Union has classified lithium as a critical raw material and is encouraging greater lithium production within member states.

Commercial prospects for European lithium mines look increasingly positive as demand rises and battery makers seek regional supply chains. Europe’s auto manufacturers need reliable lithium sources as they ramp up electric vehicle production to meet EU emissions regulations. Battery factories are also being built across Europe to supply the auto sector.

Within the EU, trade in lithium compounds is generally free of restrictions. Outside the EU, some lithium compounds have export restrictions, but metallic lithium can be freely exported. Trade relations between European lithium producers and major electric vehicle markets like China will be important export considerations.

Safety and environmental regulations are priorities for European lithium mining operations. Workers require protective equipment and training to handle hazardous reagents but extracting brines or ores can also impact local water resources, so responsible water management practices are vital. Companies need rigorous procedures to store tailings and prevent spills.

By emphasizing sustainable mining practices, Europe’s emerging lithium industry can supply battery materials for the green economy while upholding high ethical standards. With sound regulation and technological innovation, lithium mining can be part of Europe’s transition to a cleaner energy future.

Current lithium production in Europe is very limited – only about 1% of global production. The largest producing mine is in Portugal, extracting about 400 tonnes of lithium per year, however, Europe is estimated to have lithium reserves of around 60 million tonnes, primarily in untapped deposits in countries like Germany, Serbia, Portugal, Spain and the Czech Republic.

By 2025, the European Commission forecasts that EU demand for lithium will increase 15-fold from current levels to meet electric vehicle and battery production needs so, to meet this rising demand, Europe is expected to increase lithium production capacity to between 400,000-500,000 tonnes by 2030 based on projects in the pipeline. Major companies like Rio Tinto and Groupe Renault are making investments.

By 2050, some forecasts estimate European lithium production could reach up to 1.2 million tonnes annually, representing over 15% of projected global demand. New extraction technologies could also unlock European resources.

The EU has categorized lithium as a critical raw material and is providing funding and policy support to boost European production capacity: the European Battery Alliance aims to establish a full EU battery value chain, including lithium mining and refining capacity and funding programs like the EIT InnoEnergy have committed over €60 million to sustainable lithium projects in Europe.

New mining regulations are streamlining licensing procedures and minimum environmental standards are being implemented across the EU and the EU’s Raw Materials Act aims to identify mining projects of strategic interest to establish partnerships between industry, government and academia.

Photo credit, Pexels – Tom Fisk – License 2101135