Expert Meeting on European Potentials in Lithium
Competitiveness in the Lithium Industry – the Central Colocation Center (Metz, France) of EIT RawMaterials organised a workshop, 11-12 October 2017 in Würzburg, Germany, together with Core Partner Fraunhofer Institute for Silicate Research ISC, that attracted roughly 100 participants from across the value chain; one half of them were non-EIT RawMaterials members. The panel of experts gave an opportunity to review the European potentials in Lithium in terms of mining, extraction and refinement, battery materials, and cell manufacturing.
1st day. The workshop was opened by presentations on European lithium occurrences with a special focus on those that are currently assessed for mining operations. Lithium reserves are present worldwide but, in Europe, hard rocks and geothermic sources hold the greatest potential. Global production is steadily increasing, and although South American salars crystallise media attention, their market dominance is expected to significantly decrease by 2025. Noteworthy, with several projects developing (e. g. Sepeda, Wolfsberg and Keliber), one could expect some competitive European production as early as 2020.
2nd day. Evidently, the Lithium market is driven by the promise of electro-mobility, and a recent statement from the European Commission supports the establishment of a full value chain in Europe1. At the Würzburg meeting, chemical engineers, battery materials’ providers, and cell manufacturers discussed key challenges for a European lithium ion battery value chain. Li-ion batteries are versatile and respective materials and design choices for specific applications need to be addressed. But for the EU industry, leading this technological revolution also means developing a circular economy of batteries. Key challenges are linked to social behaviours (collection rate) and potentially low cost primary battery raw materials that threaten the economic viability of recycling. Policy driven cost incentives may be a meaningful measure.
Overall, it turned out that lithium may not be considered critical today2. But this might change quickly, particularly considering the enormous demand growth and the lack of transparency in today’s global lithium supply chains. There are good arguments for an integrated European value chain, above all, to keep and to expand economic growth and to create jobs in one of the biggest economic sectors of the EU: mobility.
Finally, with speakers across the value chain and about 100 attendees, the event provided the perfect scene for Dr Michael Popall, Fraunhofer ISC, to announce the creation of a new European Lithium Institute. Led by CEA, Fraunhofer and a few more EIT RawMaterials members as incubators, this new entity shall address together with major European industries the challenges involved with this strategic metal. This virtual institute should bridge along the value chain existing national and European focused networks, initiatives, centres, communities and projects of the needed raw materials. Especially the Lithium and its relevant technologies and applications, mostly batteries, but also the lightweight construction and use in medication, will be in focus. It will also act as a bridge between the KICs (Knowledge and Innovation Communities) of EIT (European Institute of Innovation and Technology) in that field.
About EIT RawMaterials
EIT RawMaterials, initiated and funded by the EIT, a body of the European Union, is the largest and strongest consortium in the raw materials sector worldwide. Its mission is to develop raw materials into a major strength for Europe by boosting competitiveness, growth and attractiveness of the European raw materials sector via radical innovation, new education approaches and guided entrepreneurship. EIT RawMaterials unites more than 100 partners – academic and research institutions as well as businesses – from more than 20 EU countries. Together they collaborate on finding new, innovative solutions to secure the supply of the raw materials and improve the sector all along the value chain – from extraction to processing, from recycling to reuse.