First carbon-neutral lithium extraction project to start in Germany
17 July 2020
EIT InnoEnergy, the European innovation engine for sustainable energy, announced a partnership with Vulcan Energy Resources Limited (Vulcan), a start-up lithium exploration company, to produce the world’s first completely carbon-neutral lithium in Germany. The partnership is part of Europe’s strategic industry initiative, the European Battery Alliance, aimed at building an independent, sustainable, and resilient battery industry in Europe.
Vulcan’s “Zero Carbon Lithium” project will be realized 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. (Earlier post.)
Vulcan will pump hot lithium-rich brine from production wells up to the surface, then use the co-generated geothermal energy 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.
The resulting lithium will then 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.
Commercial operations are targeted to start to produce lithium hydroxide in time for the large increase in expected industry demand in Europe during the first half of the decade. Over time, production volumes are expected to increase substantially. Europe is already the fastest growing lithium-ion battery production center in the world, with zero local supply of lithium hydroxide.
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 CO2-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.—CEO of EIT InnoEnergy Germany, Christian Müller
At present, the commercial production of lithium results in either substantial carbon dioxide 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 an estimated 1 billion tons of CO2 emissions.
EIT InnoEnergy will be supporting Vulcan Energy Resources in bringing this strategic project to fruition. In addition to direct financial support in the six-figure range, EIT InnoEnergy will be assisting Vulcan in raising further capital, helping to establish connections to companies in Europe’s battery supply chain as well as relevant political actors, and assisting them in building their management team and selecting qualified employees through its vital growth phase.