There are (unconfirmed) rumors about lithium deposits in Greece. In the Czech Republic, the mining of “white gold” will soon begin. It is the largest deposit in Europe.
Cinovec, a small village on the Czech-German border, about 100 kilometers northwest of Prague, stands on a treasure. In the subsoil of this area there is approximately 3-5% of the world’s lithium reserves. It is the largest deposit in Europe.
In recent years, light metal has gained enormous importance. It is used, among other things, for the production of batteries, which makes lithium essential for the energy transition and the development of electric mobility. Today the prices for this raw material are particularly high and its mining is profitable. That’s why lithium mining could change everything for the Czech Republic.
According to an analysis by the Czech Chamber of Commerce, the country has exhausted all remaining sources of growth. Therefore, it is threatened with economic stagnation in the coming years. Lithium mining, however, could give new impetus to the Czech economy, as hoped by Prime Minister Petr Fiala, who is promoting strategic investment in lithium mining and processing as central to the country’s development.
“Lithium is a key raw material for electrification and energy storage. This is why we are working to start mining as soon as possible, ideally in 2026,” Fiala said.
1,000,000 lithium batteries per year
The village of Tsinovets is located in the middle of a mining area. Ores were mined there as early as the 13th century, and in 1940 tungsten and tin mining began. Initial investigations in the 2010s indicated that lithium quantities were significant. Both there and on the other side of the German-Czech border, in Zinwald, where a smaller part of the reserves is located. The Czech Republic has already signed an agreement with Saxony for possible cooperation in lithium mining. On the Czech side, the state-controlled company Czech Energy Works (CEZ) will undertake the mining.
Studies show that 2.25 million tons of ore could be mined annually, with lithium hydroxide production reaching nearly 30,000 tons. This quantity will in turn be sufficient to produce nearly 1,000,000 lithium batteries.
The Czech Republic would like to produce the batteries itself in a giant factory, which is still in the planning phase. “We can cover everything, mining, processing, battery production, chip production, even the final production of cars,” said Prime Minister Fiala.
Area for lithium mining instead of coal?
The Usti region is one of the poorest in the Czech Republic. The end of lignite mining, which had employed thousands of locals since the 1990s, left behind significant structural problems. In addition, the landscapes have been “hurt” by mining and more than 100 settlements have been destroyed.
Thousands of miners are estimated to be employed during the 25-year lithium mining period, while the plan to build the battery factory will also bring new jobs and income to the area. The area supports lithium mining, provided it is as environmentally friendly as possible.
“I see the possibility of lithium mining as an opportunity,” says Jan Schiller, regional governor and member of the opposition ANO party. “But a lot depends on the legal framework we negotiate before the mining starts. We still have vivid memories of the consequences of coal mining. Any degradation of living conditions should be adequately compensated for the communities,” Schiller told DW.
Are new perspectives opening up?
The region of Usti is financed by the EU Just Transition Fund. to stop coal mining and reshape the local economy. Part of this money will now be spent on the exploitation of lithium deposits. However, some experts warn that after the decline of lignite mining, the money should be invested in education and a more general restructuring of the economy.
A similar view is adopted by many citizens. Michal Koletsko, for example, a professor at the Jan Evangelista Purkyne University in Usti nad Labem, is an opponent of lithium mining. “If we want to change the region and ensure a different future, we must choose a fundamental change. We must focus on sectors that have development potential and not only ensure the region an economic future, but also change the social composition and educational level of the population,” Koletsko told DW.
Fears about the environmental consequences
The people of Chinovec are divided. At a recent discussion between citizens and representatives of CEZ in nearby Dubi, the hall where the event was hosted was suffocatingly full. Many residents are concerned that the plans will jeopardize water supplies and worsen air quality, especially during the transportation of raw material.
Like all mining, lithium mining has an impact on the environment. In South America, where about 70% of the world’s lithium reserves lie in the so-called “lithium triangle” between Bolivia, Chile and Argentina, groundwater levels have dropped sharply in some places due to the pumping of lithium-containing brine. In some areas, both water, soil and air are contaminated.
The licensing process for lithium mining is due to start at the end of 2023. However, CEZ does not seem to have many doubts about the outcome of the case: it has already bought a plot of land for the construction of lithium processing facilities, paying one billion Czech crowns – about 40 .8 million euros.
Edited by: Giorgos Passas
Source: Deutsche Welle