Europe joins the ‘white gold’ rush for lithium and faces an energy transition challenge – by Cyrielle Cabot ( – October 19, 2022)

Shortly before arriving at the Paris Motor Show on Monday, French President Emmanuel Macron told the financial daily Les Echos that his administration wanted to make electric vehicles “accessible to everyone”.

Macron then proceeded to announce a series of measures to enable households to acquire electric vehicles. With the EU seeking to ban the sale of combustion engine vehicles from 2035, France is trying to gradually phase out fossil-fuel cars. While the move is seen as an essential step on the road to energy transition, it also poses a serious problem: it will require massive quantities of metals needed to manufacture batteries, especially lithium.

The figures speak for themselves. Since 2015, production volumes of lithium – also known as “white gold” – have tripled worldwide, reaching 100,000 tonnes per year by 2021, according to the International Energy Agency. The volumes could increase sevenfold by 2030. At the European level, about 35 times more lithium will be needed in 2050 than today, according to an April study by KU Leuven, a Catholic research university in Belgium.

“We are at a stage where all countries are starting their energy transition more or less at the same time and this generates very significant metal needs,” noted Olivier Vidal, a geologist and director of research at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS). “This will certainly create tensions in the coming years, with expected increases in costs and, possibly, supply difficulties. So, there is a real strategic and sovereignty issue for states.”

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