The potential of lithium’s boom is already having a knock-on effect for the small village of Cinovec on the Czech border with Germany, which has a tin and tungsten mining tradition dating back to 1378. Its mines were abandoned in 1991 because they ceased to be economically sustainable after the collapse of communism, but recent explorations have found the biggest deposit of lithium in Europe, said arkansasonline.com.
Jaromir Stary, the head of the Department of Mineral Resources at the Czech Geological Survey, said the lithium resources in the Czech Republic could amount to 1.3 million to 1.5 million tons, mostly in the Cinovec area. Only Serbia has a similar deposit in Europe, estimated at 1.1 million tons.
Australia’s European Metals Holdings has had an exclusive license to explore the resources and the right to seek permission to mine since 2014 when it acquired Czech exploration company Geomet, which first confirmed the presence of the ore. European Metals Holdings is listed at the London Stock Exchange and the Australian Securities Exchange in Sydney.
“You can have a splendid idea, but you need money to make it reality,” said Otto Janout, a prospector and one of Geomet’s four founders. Investors have driven up European Metals Holdings’ share prices eightfold in the past year alone.
Managing Director Keith Coughlan said it was planning to open a mine at Cinovec in the coming years to produce about 3,800 tons of lithium a year.
That would place the country among the top five lithium producers in the world.
“I believe it is a danger for Europe to continue to think that it can rely on Asia for its supply chain of battery-related materials and, in particular, lithium,” Coughlan said. “I think it is a very significant asset from a European perspective.”
According to a report by the U.S. Geological Survey, Australia was the leading lithium producer with 15,700 tons in 2016, followed by Chile with 13,200 tons. Argentina is third with 6,283, while China, the biggest consumer, was fourth with 2,200 tons.
Global output was 38,580 tons in 2016, 12 percent more than the previous year, the report said. A Deutsche Bank study in 2016 forecast global battery consumption growing threefold in the next 10 years.
Parts of the Czech deposit span the border with Germany, where Canada’s Bacanora has been exploring it.
Stary said a key disadvantage of the Czech ore compared with other deposits could be its low grade as it contains about 0.2 percent of lithium on average. But it’s relatively uncomplicated and environmentally friendly to process.
Unlike most other deposits in the world, the Czech variant is located in an area with functioning infrastructure, including railroad access. Potential customers are nearby, and not just car manufacturers.
U.S.-based A123 Systems recently opened a new plant in the eastern Czech city of Ostrava to make lithium-ion car starter batteries for luxury auto brands. Prague-based HE3DA recently started a trial production of lithium batteries suitable to store energy from renewable electric sources, using nanotechnology. It plans to open a new factory in eastern Czech Republic next year.
The company has already signed a memorandum about the future cooperation with European Metals Holdings, HE3DA President Jan Prochazka said.