Relocalising the extraction of mineral resources: the challenges of lithium in Europe

Lithium is one of the essential materials for energy transition. Europe imports lithium even though there are significant lithium resources on the continent. 
1 June 2020
Example of lithium-rich rock

An example of lithium-rich rock called pegmatite, with its characteristic purple colour, composed of lithiniferous micas, feldspar and quartz (département of Haute-Vienne, 2009).

© BRGM - Eric Gloaguen

France imports nearly 100% of the metals and a significant proportion of the rocks and minerals used by its industry. It is critical that France relocalises the sourcing of mineral raw materials to strategically secure its independence in this respect and improve the carbon budget and economic balance of its productive sectors. 

The raw materials needed for energy transition and the digital transformation are actually under our feet in the subsurface. These metals, such as nickel, copper, cobalt, lithium and rare earths, are used in the batteries of our computers, tablets and smartphones, but more importantly, electric vehicles. 

The potential value of France's mineral resources has been largely underestimated up to now. The country has significant resources of industrial minerals and rocks, as well as numerous metals, such as tungsten, antimony, gold, lead, zinc, germanium, copper, lithium and molybdenum. 

The example of lithium, now refined mainly in China but produced massively in Australia and Chile, is a case in point. In 2018 BRGM made an inventory of lithium resources in mainland France which revealed lithium sources in rocks with a definite potential for recovery.