Imerys, a world-leading company in mineral-based speciality solutions, has announced the launch of a landmark lithium mining project at its Beauvoir site. Upon successful completion of the project, it will contribute to French and European energy transition ambitions.
Furthermore, the project would increase Europe’s industrial sovereignty at a time when car and battery manufacturers are heavily dependent on imported lithium.
Alessandro Dazza, CEO of Imerys, said: “I am very excited by the potential of our lithium project and very proud of the work done by the teams over the last 18 months to develop it. Upon successful completion, the Emili project would provide a sustainable, competitive, domestic source of lithium supply for French and European carmakers and would make a major contribution to meeting the challenges of the energy transition.
“Throughout the process, Imerys will engage with all stakeholders, from local communities to policymakers, in a spirit of openness and transparency. This project can be a real game changer for Imerys.”
Safe and emission-free methods of lithium extraction
The lithium mining project is a direct response to the challenges introduced by the energy transition. It offers a long-term solution that addresses Europe’s decarbonisation aims, while also increasing French and European sovereignty by reducing the dependency on imports.
Lithium – a key raw material and component for Li-ion batteries – was identified as critical by the European Commission in 2020. Its consumption is expected to grow exponentially in the coming years.
Building on their experience and knowledge of local biodiversity, Imerys intends to put forward a project that respects the environment and local communities. They have committed to developing the project in line with IRMA standards, the benchmark for responsible lithium mining.
The company intends to use underground mining on their latest lithium mining project, which would minimise the impact on natural habitats. Moreover, the project design is being developed with local private and public stakeholders, in order to devise a responsible industrial project.
As well as reducing the impact on its ecosystem, Imerys would target low CO2 emissions from its operations, with the aim to produce lithium with less than half of the CO2 emissions of typical existing hard rock lithium operations in the world. Examples of CO2 reduction initiatives would include an electric mining fleet, transport by underground pipelines, trains, or the use of the French low-carbon electricity mix.
Meeting production targets
According to initial assessments, the lithium mining project would reach a production target of 34,000 tonnes of lithium hydroxide per year for at least 25 years. It would be one of the European Union’s largest lithium mining projects and could, once fully operational, equip the equivalent of 700,000 electric vehicles with lithium-ion batteries.
Bruno Le Maire, Minister of Economy, Finance, and Industrial and Digital Sovereignty, said: “I congratulate Imerys on launching the first low-carbon lithium mining operation in France. This project, which is exemplary from an environmental and climate perspective, will significantly reduce our need to import lithium and enable us to produce nearly 700,000 electric vehicle batteries per year. It will contribute to the objective set by the President of the Republic to produce two million electric vehicles in France by 2030, and will be supported by the Government.”
Imerys is finalising the technical scoping study to explore various operational options and refine geological and industrial aspects relating to the lithium extraction and processing method, which must meet demanding technical, environmental, and economic criteria. Imerys is also evaluating the possibility of recovering valuable co-products, such as felspar, tantalum, and tin.
Based on the most advanced technology, the project is estimated to involve a construction CapEx of approximately €1bn. The cash cost of the lithium produced at Beauvoir is estimated to be around €7-9 per kilogram. The estimated cost would be competitive, especially in the European market, and would secure an attractive return for the project in line with the Group’s long-term value creation goals.
Once the laboratory and industrial pilot phases have been completed, production and commercialisation are expected to begin within the next five years. It is anticipated that 1,000 direct and indirect jobs, and an international centre of excellence for lithium extraction from hard rocks will be created in the Auvergne Rhône-Alpes region.
Roland Lescure, Deputy Minister of Industry, said: “The launch of the first lithium mine in France is a historic step for the nation’s industry. Imerys’ lithium production will address more than a quarter of future French gigafactories needs, with a significantly reduced carbon footprint compared to non-European competitors, thanks to our country’s low-carbon electricity.
“This project, which we support within the framework of the France 2030 plan, is part of the government’s industrial strategy, which aims to establish the entire battery value chain in France, from basic materials to recycling. It demonstrates that the ecological transition is also a driver for deindustrialisation.”