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Raw material for e-car batteries from Germany
Karsruher company wants to mine lithium treasure trove
The Australian-German company Vulcan Energy Resources wants to extract an important raw material for electric cars in the Upper Rhine Graben in an environmentally and climate-friendly way. But the necessary money is still lacking.
When criticism is voiced about the eco-balance of electric cars, it is often about the raw materials for the batteries. Take lithium, for example: The alkali metal can only be extracted at great expense. Either very CO2-intensive surface mining, which is mainly practiced in Australia and China. Or by evaporation of lithium-rich water, as happens particularly in South America. As a result, the groundwater level there sinks and already water-scarce regions dry out further.
The carbon footprint also deteriorates because the raw material has to be processed into lithium hydroxide for use in electric car batteries. This is largely done in Asia – mostly in China – which requires long transport routes. As a result, lithium is a major reason why e-vehicles are already lugging around a large CO2 backpack before they have even driven a kilometer.
Lithium from the Upper Rhine Graben
The company Vulcan Energy Resources wants to massively reduce this carbon dioxide ballast. And to this end, it wants to mine a treasure that lies right on our doorstep: According to the company, Europe’s largest lithium deposit is located in the Upper Rhine Graben. The approximately 300 kilometer long and up to 40 kilometer wide lowland plain, which stretches in southwest Germany and eastern France between Frankfurt/Main and Basel, has saline deep groundwater that is said to hold tens of thousands of tons of the alkali metal.
Graphic representation of the lithium extraction process Vulcan Energy Resources is aiming for.
The company, which was founded in Karlsruhe, Germany, but is listed on the Australian stock exchange, has secured a license to extract the European lithium present in the area. In doing so, Vulcan Energy Resources hopes to meet demand, which is expected to increase sharply due to the steady rise in electric car production, “for many years to come.” The Upper Rhine Graben’s lithium is expected to be enough for up to 400 million e-vehicles. The whole thing is even supposed to work in a clean and climate-friendly way: Vulcan Energy Resources has already had its extraction process certified as CO2-neutral.
Low water and land consumption
The process is multi-stage and begins with pumping the 165-degree thermal water from underground reservoirs up to four kilometers below the surface. There, it drives a steam turbine to generate electricity in an environmentally friendly way. This serves as energy for an extraction plant in which the lithium is separated from other elements dissolved in the water. In parallel, the surplus energy is fed into the public heating and power grid. The thermal water used then flows back into the natural reservoir in a closed loop system.