BERLIN — Rocketing demand and prices for lithium, coupled with China’s stranglehold on supply, are reviving interest in mining Europe’s reserves of the coveted metal some call white petroleum.
Prices for lithium used in the batteries that power anything from mobile phones to Teslas more than doubled to $21,000 a ton in the past two years. Analysts expect the lithium-ion battery market to surpass $90 billion by 2025 as electric vehicles become commonplace and growing use of wind and sun power forces utilities to invest in large electricity storage facilities.
But while European businesses use 25% of the world’s lithium, a group of Chinese companies has secured a potential stranglehold on the Australian and South American mines that produce almost all the world’s battery-grade metal.
That has sent a small group of pioneers on a race to reopen European mines where the conditions that gave rise to such lowly metals as tin have left lithium-rich rocks and hot brines.
The race for European lithium echoes similar efforts in Japan to track down metals for use in batteries amid concern about China’s hegemony over other minerals used in batteries and electric vehicles.
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