The sudden zeal for all things lithium is gripping the country. After Secretary of State for Energetic Transition João Galamba announced plans for Europe’s first lithium refinery, to be sited – most likely – in Leixões (click here), mining company Lusorecursos has said it too will be building a refinery a little more than 150 kms northwest in Montalegre.
With communities saying they are “terrified” by the implications of so many new mining projects dotting the countryside, environment minister João Pedro Matos Fernandes and his deputy Galamba have been answering questions in parliament.
João Galamba suggested it would be a crime not to go ahead with the Montalegre deal – signed with Luscorecursos and clouded by allegations of corruption – while his ‘boss’ Matos Fernandes criticised leader of the opposition Rui Rio for ‘cooking up’ what he called a ‘pie-full of lies’ about it.
The minister played on Rui Rio’s contention that he ‘smelled a rat’ in the awarding of the contract to a company created only three days previously by calling him a ‘nasal engineer’.
All in all, the whole issue of lithium is generating possibly more heat than anyone bargained for.
Certainly David Archer of Savannah Resources which holds mining rights in nearby Boticas told us that he “had never seen anything like it”.
Even the New York Times has been commenting on the ‘government under fire’, highlighting accusations from PAN’s MP André Silva that the Montalegre project was “yet another” by the Socialist Party “destroying the environment in the name of economic growth”.
What does seem clear is that the government is forging ahead with the idea that lithium exploration and production will somehow make Portugal a new leader in Europe.
Explain reports: “The government wants to make Portugal Europe’s top producer of higher-grade lithium for electric car batteries, with the added perk of reducing dependency in the EU on imports from China.
Said Matos Fernandes when he addressed parliament on Wednesday: “Europe has lagged behind China. Portugal will be at the forefront of this project.”
Only Reuters seems to have cottoned on to the fact that “Portugal will face fierce global competition” and that lithium prices have already fallen due to “warnings of a bubble and oversupply”.
As for talk of the second refinery, the CEO behind Lusorecursos suggests it’ll cost 300 million euros to build, with funding already under negotiation with companies from the Far East, Europe and the Middle East.