Portugal: Lithium preliminary environmental report identifies ‘some risks’

"The Lithium working group said that there has been an increase in demand for Lithium driven largely by the importance of this metal, not only in technology, but especially for its use in electric vehicle batteries, and justified by the circumstance that Portugal has geological conditions strongly favourable to the occurrence of Lithium minerals," it explained. [Shutterstock/Steve Morfi]

The preliminary environmental impact assessment report for the Lithium Prospecting and Exploration Programme identified “some risks” in the eight potential areas in the north and centre of the country, but still recognised the opportunity this could have for the economy’s decarbonisation.

According to the evaluation, the Lithium Research and Exploration Programme (PPPLítio) “is an opportunity…to decarbonise the economy and pursue the energy transition strategy.”

“The Lithium working group said that there has been an increase in demand for Lithium driven largely by the importance of this metal, not only in technology, but especially for its use in electric vehicle batteries, and justified by the circumstance that Portugal has geological conditions strongly favourable to the occurrence of Lithium minerals,” it explained.

However, the report also indicated that geological and mining knowledge in the various areas with lithiferous potential is “inconsistent and incomplete”, making prospection and research “more relevant and necessary”.

“When the practice of these research activities, for the most part non-invasive, occur responsibly and sustainably, it allows several benefits to be drawn while causing minimal damage to the environment,” it noted.

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Among several proposed measures, the document highlights the development of a documentation plan, the implementation of accessible complaint mechanisms to manage potential conflicts, and the promotion of joint monitoring actions of exploration activities between the Directorate General of Energy and Geology (DGEG) and other entities.

For the tender act, the PPPLítio’s environmental report warned that areas of greater urban, functional and demographic intensity should be excluded from prospecting operations.

According to the document, local suppliers and labour should also be favoured in the different activities, not affecting archaeological or architectural occurrences classified with heritage value, warning that intervention in the subsoil should be minimised in a strip of at least 300 metres around the respective water line.

“Companies carrying out prospection and research should present a water efficiency and protection plan for potentially affected water resources. The best available techniques should be used to minimise possible impacts,” it noted.

The report also added that “prospecting and exploration may have effects on the quality of the environment” and water in particular, but that the “vast majority” of mining activities “do not generate impacts on water and hydrogeological resources on a local and regional scale”.

“If they do exist, they represent a very low risk to the environment and society,” it concludes.

Lithium tipped for EU list of critical raw materials

The soft, silvery-white alkali metal is expected to enter the EU list of critical raw materials later this year because of its strategic importance to the automotive industry, EURACTIV has learned.

The DGEG on Tuesday placed on public consultation the preliminary environmental assessment report of the Lithium Prospecting and Exploration Program of the eight potential areas for launching a tender procedure until 10 November.

The preliminary environmental assessment report analysed eight areas in the North and Centre of the country: Arga (Viana do Castelo), Seixoso-Vieiros (Braga, Porto and Vila Real), Massueime (Guarda), Guarda – Mangualde (four areas spread over Guarda, Viseu, Castelo Branco and Coimbra) and Segura (Castelo Branco).

The government has decided to go ahead with an environmental impact assessment to allocate rights for lithium prospecting and exploration in eight areas instead of the 11 considered in the initial list.

“In the first phase, sites were listed where lithium deposits are thought to exist,” an official from the environment ministry told Lusa. These consist of 11 zones, as announced in October by the executive.

“Areas with environmental protection status were removed from the initial list,” the official added, referring to areas classified as reserves or natural parks.

The prospection activities aim to discover the existence of lithium mineral deposits, their quantities, and the economic viability of their extraction but exclude areas with environmental protection status or where an environmental impact assessment is already being carried out.

According to the government, the tender for awarding rights to prospect and explore lithium – after a strategic environmental assessment has been carried out – “will allow for the installation of reference industrial projects and the creation of research and development hubs in the area of batteries.”

Meanwhile, the environmental association Quercus on Wednesday warned that 28% of the areas allocated for lithium exploration are inside nationally protected areas.

“It’s a shame the Government continues to insist on the lithium exploration plan. And here in the region [district of Castelo Branco], we will fight to the last consequences, with residents”, Quercus’ Samuel Infante told Lusa news agency.

“We are talking about areas that the Portuguese State has undertaken to protect and safeguard and which have unique conservation values and development models”, Quercus maintained.

In the Castelo Branco district, Infante said that the programme involves Serra da Estrela Natural Park, Serra da Gardunha, the Natural Park of International Tagus (PNTI) and the Geopark Naturtejo Geopark of the Meridional Meseta (UNESCO World Geopark).

“We are talking about areas with high conservation value. The environmental assessment itself identifies these areas and has identified more than 116 species with conservation interest, in other words, species that are in danger of extinction and that exist in these areas,” he added.

Infante repeated that “it makes no sense” to insist on this type of “heavy, destructive and contaminating industry when Portugal is not a significant player” in this area.

“All activities have positive and negative impacts. But in this case, clearly, the negatives outweigh the possible economic benefits”, he also said.

Race for lithium illustrates EU drive for 'strategic' raw materials

The European Union is accelerating plans to develop lithium mining and refining capacity on its territory as part of a concerted EU push to develop a strategic value chain for manufacturing electric car batteries inside Europe.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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