London-based mining company Savannah Resources revealed on Monday that it is in talks with several major European industrial groups, including carmakers, as it gears up to start commercial lithium production in northern Portugal in 2021.
Portugal is regarded as Europe’s largest producer of lithium, but the miners sell almost exclusively to the ceramics industry. It has taken years in order to make preparations to produce the higher-grade lithium that is used in electric cars and to power electronic appliances.
Savannah already mines feldspar, quartz and pegmatites in Barroso, a mountainous region in the north.
In a statement Savannah Resources revealed that the commercial production of lithium concentrate was scheduled to start in 2021, with the first full year of production being in 2022 “to coincide with the anticipated increase in demand for lithium for European electric vehicle production”.
“Savannah is in offtake and investment discussions with a number of major European industrial groups including car manufacturers and with a series of other international groups,” the company stated.
Interest in lithium mining has been spurred on by a predicted growth in the sales of electric vehicles, which are cheaper to run and more environmentally friendly than regular cars.
However, Portugal will face fierce global competition, and warnings of a bubble effect and oversupply have pushed down lithium prices and caused strident discussion between political figures.
The Government is currently finalizing plans for an international licensing tender for lithium exploration to start this year, despite fierce intense objections from environmental groups.
Last month, hundreds of people protested in Lisbon against lithium mining. A petition signed by thousands said the Barroso project would cause irreversible damage, from soil pollution to destruction of the natural habitat of various endangered species.
Barroso was declared a world agricultural heritage region just last year by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, but at the end of the day it seems that money always prevails.
Portugal’s biggest environmental NGO, Quercus, opposes any large-scale lithium exploration, warning that it would jeopardize the country’s carbon-neutrality goals, due to the amount of fossil fuels used to mine the lithium.