Lithium hailed as “Portugal’s oil”

As populations rise up against the government’s determination to award licences to companies to mine lithium, experts are being cited to reinforce the ‘plus sides’ of the metal that has suddenly become so ‘sexy’.

Lithium could be Portugal’s oil, suggests investigator Marina Brito, working out of Braga’s Iberian Nanotechnology Laboratory (INL).

Brito has been speaking to journalists ahead of tomorrow’s Battery Summit 2030, to be hosted by INL.

The bottom line – perhaps as the country turns away from the idea of oil exploration that has been so ferociously attacked by civic groups and NGOs – is that Portugal’s plentiful underground lithium ‘mines’ mean it is the only country able to “cover the entire cycle of batteries, from mining (lithium) to recycling”.

As the world has become increasingly aware, lithium is one of the 21st century’s most important metals.

It is an essential element in the rechargeable battery technology used in mobile phones, laptops and electric vehicles.

Affirms Brito: “lithium is the future” and as such, the way in which the metal is managed has to be “well thought out”.

Brito’s enthusiasm has been echoed by other ‘experts’ who are gradually beginning to send out block emails to media groups, stressing the message that Portugal “cannot afford to miss this great economic opportunity”.

At the same time, environment minister João Pedro Matos Fernandes appears to be forging ahead with plans for a lithium licencing auction.

He has confirmed that tenders will be launched for nine out of 12 of the areas identified as having ‘elevated (mining) potential”.

The areas eliminated from the process were considered to be “too environmentally sensitive”, he said.

But as local and national papers have pointed out, communities and environmentalists believe many other areas are also too environmentally ‘sensitive’ to countenance open-pit mining of the type lithium exploration implies.

Talking to Correio da Manhã, environmental engineer Eduardo Santos stressed that mining will “contaminate groundwaters, provoke noise pollution and emit a great deal of dust”.

Discussing what it calls “a wave of revolt” throughout the central regions where rich lithium reserves have been identified, CM adds that the areas correspond to communities that were devastated by the 2017 fires.

Serra de Argemela (running from Covilhã to Fundão) is just one of these – whose mayoress Maria do Carmo Mendonça has clearly seen the connection.

Says CM’s television arm CMTV, the government however is adamant that the exploration of lithium is “highly important” for Portugal, and a report to this effect has outlined all the plus points, without taking populations opinions, quality of life/ health or indeed the environmental consequences into account.

For now, as Matos Fernandes clarifies, “no lithium exploration has been authorised”.

Once this situation changes’, winning bids will be the subject of environmental impact studies before they can receive the final go ahead.

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