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World’s first zero carbon lithium extraction project to start in Germany

EIT InnoEnergy has announced a partnership with Vulcan Energy Resources to produce what is claimed will be the world’s first completely carbon neutral lithium extraction project in Germany. The partnership forms part of Europe’s strategic industry initiative, the European Battery Alliance, aimed at building an independent, sustainable and resilient battery industry in Europe.  

The project will be based in the German part of the Upper Rhine Rift, in the states of Baden-Wuertemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate. The region contains Europe’s largest lithium resource and one of the largest worldwide.

CEO of EIT InnoEnergy Germany, Christian Müller, says: ‘Batteries are a key technology of our time. Driven particularly by the demand of the e-mobility sector, Europe’s share of global battery cell production is forecast to reach almost 15% by 2024, overtaking the US and Asia, excluding China. By using that momentum to accelerate the development of the European battery value chain, we are making our economy more resilient to future crises.’

‘The CO
2-neutral development of our own lithium deposits is a crucial building block for a sustainable and strong European battery industry and will bring us significantly closer to meeting our 2030 climate goals. By further investing in Vulcan, and the other lithium mining projects, Europe could cover most of its anticipated lithium demand from regional resources.’

At present, the commercial production of lithium results in either substantial CO
2 emissions, or considerable damage to scarce water supplies. For example, fully electrifying the global passenger vehicle fleet using lithium sourced via hard rock mining would result in a staggering 1bn tons of CO2 emissions, according to EIT InnoEnergy and Vulcan.

Horst Kreuter, co-founder of Vulcan Energy Resources, comments: ‘Our goal is to play an integral role in enabling a zero carbon future by decarbonising the currently high carbon production footprint of lithium-ion batteries used in electric vehicles. We have therefore carried out a very thorough global search for the perfect location – and found it. Not only does the Upper Rhine region contain one of the largest lithium reservoirs globally, it is also within a few hours reach to many of the world’s leading auto manufacturers, and many other industrial players, all of whom have a hugely growing demand for emission-free lithium. We see a massive chance for the region to become one of the key centres of the European battery industry itself, which would result in the creation of thousands of secure and highly qualified jobs.’

Vulcan plans to pump hot lithium-rich brine up to the surface, then use the renewable heat to drive lithium extraction using its proprietary technique, with excess renewable energy as a saleable by-product that can be fed back into the grid. As a result, the carbon footprint of the production process could even be negative, it claims. The resulting lithium will be used in a number of ways, most notably in the production of lithium-ion batteries to meet the massive demand from the automotive and other sectors.


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