15 Jun 2020, 15:11
Benjamin Wehrmann

Geothermal lithium mining project cause for controversy in southern Germany

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung / Spiegel Online

A model project mining lithium as a by-product of geothermal energy production in Germany's southern Rhine Valley could help the country's mighty car industry become more independent of international suppliers, Andreas Frey writes for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. The Australian company Vulcan Energy Resources, which aspires to turn the Upper Rhine Valley into a European "lithium valley," says it can produce up to 400 tonnes of lithium hydroxide that will be directly supplied to battery producers and without causing CO2 emissions, thanks to combining the lithium extraction with geothermal energy production. The company claims that conditions for this form of lithium mining are ideal in the region, which might hold up to 14 million tonnes of the highly-demanded mineral – nearly one third of the global reserves. However, geologist Ingrid Stober of Freiburg University told the newspaper it is unclear whether geothermal lithium production can become economically viable."It might hurt the reputation of geothermal heat production if people are promised things that are not yet possible,” she said.
In a different article on Spiegel Online, Alexander Preker writes that citizens living in the prospective lithium mining areas are already opposing the project over fears that it might lead to small earthquakes that can damage buildings. Richard Schüler, district administrator of chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative CDU in Kehl, said he would do "anything" to prevent geothermal lithium mining in the area, arguing that geothermal drilling led to an earthquake in the neighbouring French city of Strasbourg in 2019.

Authorities in southern Germany have announced plans earlier this year to better exploit the energy potential of the Upper Rhine Valley, one of Europe's most geothermally active regions. Lithium is considered to be a key raw material of the 21st century, with global demand expected to grow fast as electric mobility options expand.

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