The Central Colocation Center (Metz, France) of EIT RawMaterials organised a workshop on competitiveness in the Lithium Industry, 11-12 October 2017 in Würzburg, Germany, together with Core Partner Fraunhofer Institute for Silicate Research ISC. The event attracted roughly 100 participants from across the value chain; one half of them were non-EIT RawMaterials members. The panel of experts gave an opportunity to review the European potentials in Lithium in terms of mining, extraction and refinement, battery materials, and cell manufacturing.

In more detail, the events of the two days went as follows:

11 October: On the first day, the workshop was opened by presentations on European lithium occurrences with a special focus on those that are currently assessed for mining operations. Lithium reserves are present worldwide but, in Europe, hard rocks and geothermic sources hold the greatest potential. Global production is steadily increasing, and although South American salars crystallise media attention, their market dominance is expected to significantly decrease by 2025. Noteworthy, with several projects developing (e. g. Sepeda, Wolfsberg and Keliber), one could expect some competitive European production as early as 2020.

12 October: Evidently, the Lithium market is driven by the promise of electro-mobility, and a recent statement from the European Commission supports the establishment of a full value chain in Europe. At the Würzburg meeting, chemical engineers, battery materials’ providers, and cell manufacturers discussed key challenges for a European lithium ion battery value chain. Li-ion batteries are versatile and respective materials and design choices for specific applications need to be addressed. But for the EU industry, leading this technological revolution also means developing a circular economy of batteries. Key challenges are linked to social behaviours (collection rate) and potentially low cost primary battery raw materials that threaten the economic viability of recycling. Policy driven cost incentives may be a meaningful measure.

Overall, it turned out that lithium may not be considered critical today. But this might change quickly, particularly considering the enormous demand growth and the lack of transparency in today’s global lithium supply chains. There are good arguments for an integrated European value chain, above all, to keep and to expand economic growth and to create jobs in one of the biggest economic sectors of the EU: mobility.

With speakers across the value chain and about 100 attendees, the event provided the perfect scene for Dr Michael Popall, Fraunhofer ISC, to announce the creation of a new European Lithium Institute. Led by CEA, Fraunhofer and a few more EIT RawMaterials members as incubators, this new entity shall address together with major European industries the challenges involved with this strategic metal. This virtual institute should bridge along the value chain existing national and European focused networks, initiatives, centres, communities and projects of the needed raw materials. Especially the Lithium and its relevant technologies and applications, mostly batteries, but also the lightweight construction and use in medication, will be in focus. It will also act as a bridge between the KICs (Knowledge and Innovation Communities) of EIT (European Institute of Innovation and Technology) in that field.

You can find out more by visiting the Fraunhofer ISC web site.