According to USDA report estimates Portugal produced 200 MT of Lithium in 2016. It was produced and sold in its crude form of ores and concentrates, as Portugal is lacking any refining capacity.
Portugal has had a difficult mining history with labour and unions and suffers from the high price of the Euro but may prove to be a beneficial destination for lithium production from a European perspective. Close proximity to European automotive manufacturers will give desirable supply for product which has traditionally been sold for glass & ceramics. At present, lithium mined in Portugal goes exclusively to the ceramics industry, where it is used as a flux in furnaces.
The production of one ton of lithium carbonate from pegmatites in Portugal, costs 4450 EUR, considerably more expensive than the alternative. Since one MT of lithium carbonate obtained from brine costs only around 1780 EUR on average.
The great challenge for Portugal, as for other relatively high cost jurisdictions, is to devise a refining process that obtains a high purity and hence high added value lithium.
The largest lithium mine in Europe is operated by Grupo Mota, Felmica, in the Guarda region, which is estimated to have reserves for 30 years of production. It has 5 more deposits in its possession.
Founded in 1967, Felmica is a company in the extraction and processing of raw materials for the ceramics industry. It is headquartered in Mangualde, in the north central part of Portugal. FELMICA holds rights to more than 25 mining concessions of quartz and feldspar. It operates within Grupo Mota, along with entities as Adelino Duarte da Mota, SA, Motamineral Minerais Industriais, SA, Mota Soluções Cerâmicas, SA and Mota Pastas Cerâmicas, SA.
At the level of the production process, Felmica introduced the optical separation of the ores, innovation that allows to take full advantage of the ore and obtain a concentration of lithium about three times higher than industry average. In 2008, it began production of lithium concentrates, potentially usable in the batteries of electric cars.
Portugal is rich in its lithium subsoil, which is especially concentrated in the districts of Guarda, Viseu, Vila Real and Viana do Castelo, while most of the country’s lithium comes from the Goncalo aplite-pegmatite field.
Novo Lítio Ltd is an Australian ASX and Frankfurt-listed Company which aims to be a sustainable European lithium carbonate/lithium hydroxide supplier, from its Northern Portugal operations, to the lithium ion battery production market in Europe. It also aims to supply ultra-low impurity, technical grade petalite concentrate to the glass/ceramics market.
The Company has a significant cash position from the sale of its Australian lithium discovery. It aims to be producing premium petalite concentrate by early to mid-2019 and battery-grade lithium chemical products by early to mid-2020. Novo Litio has largest lithium pegmatite JORC Mineral Resource in Europe.
Currently company remains however in legal dispute over its key Sepeda project and stated its focus would shift to generating new lithium drill targets on its landholding in the northern Portugal lithium belt, while it continues to pursue legal action over the disputed Sepeda project.
The firm also recently released a scoping study which showed that a larger global resource would be required to justify the construction of a battery-grade lithium carbonate plant in Portugal.
Lithium projects in the north of Portugal have attracted the attention of Savannah Resources, which has bought Slipstream Resources Investments to get the rights to exploration. In all, there are four zones that are being exploited by the British company for the lithium prospect.
AIM listed Savannah Resources Plc (AIM: SAV) is a multi-commodity development company focused on building cash generative and profitable mining operations.
The Company operates a strategic portfolio of assets, spanning globally. It has entered into an agreement to acquire a 75% interest in the highly strategic Mina do Barroso prospect in northern Portugal. With an approved Mining Plan, Environmental Impact Assessment and a 30-year mining concession/Mining Licence, the Company is focussed on defining a JORC resource so that a development decision can be made by the end of 2018. Mina do Barroso is arguably one of the most advanced lithium mining concessions in Europe.
Initial preliminary metallurgical test work indicates that a clean, high quality spodumene product (over 6% Li2O) can be produced from the mineralised rock.
It aims to begin mining lithium in Portugal at the end of 2019, making it the first big producer of the battery mineral in Europe, where rival projects are springing up across the continent.
Savannah says it is in line to be Europe’s first significant producer of spodumene, a hard-rock form of lithium in favour as a relatively quick source of battery grade lithium compared with brines, which can take much longer to process, although analysts say technological advances could change that.
“Late 2019 for a production start is an aggressive target for Savannah but also one which the company thinks is achievable.”
Savannah believes it could bring the Mina do Barroso project into production through a series of open pit mines.
CEO David Archer describes the Mina do Barroso project as one of the “most promising” in Europe, citing its strategic position on the continent and good existing infrastructure.
“We believe that hard rock, lithium spodumene deposits like those at Mina do Barroso will be playing the leading role in the upstream part of the lithium value chain going into the 2020s,” said Archer.
Brisbane and Perth-based Lepidico (ASX:PLP) is a lithium company with global interests that is focused on exploration, development and operation of lithium assets, particularly those containing lithium-rich mica minerals. The Company’s shares are traded on the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) and also the Frankfurt Stock Exchange (AUB).
Leipidico operates based on proprietary L-Max® technology and it has established a global footprint in lithium via wholly owned projects and joint ventures in Australia, Canada, Brazil and Argentina.
Lepidico will have an exclusive/pre-emptive right for 3 years to effect a commercial relationship with Grupo Mota with regards to ore supply from Alvarrões including sale of ore or concentrate by Grupo Mota to Lepidico, and/or the right for Lepidico to develop and operate a lithium mica mining and concentration project at Alvarrões.
In 2015 there were around 50 applications from companies to the government to explore and extract lithium in the country.
Plans for added-value
A working group on lithium set up by Portugal’s government in December to determine the possibility of the rare metal being produced and processed in the country on a large scale has put forward a range of recommendations to foster the testing of technology and demonstrate the metal’s industrial potential.
Finance could come in part from existing sources such as the European Union-funded COMPETE programme, the group said in its report.
The working group is coordinated by the deputy director general of the Directorate General of Energy and Geology, Cristina Lourenço, and has representatives from LNEG, EDM – Empresa de Desenvolvimento Mineiro, the National Association of the Extractive and Manufacturing Industry (ANIET) and the Portuguese Association of Marble and Granite Industries (Assimagra).
Lithium is one of the trumps that Portugal can use to attract Tesla’s investment into the country. The creation of this working group can be seen as an investee to convince Elon Musk. Dating Tesla started a few years ago.
As for Tesla and the chance of it setting up a ‘gigafactory’ in Portugal, if there is a lithium processing facility in Portugal, this makes it more likely that the US company will locate here.
With over 46,000 people and local authorities signed up to the “Bring Tesla to Portugal” cause – and the company registering for tax purposes in Portugal – behind-the-scenes negotiators say the likelihood of the electric car and battery manufacturer constructing its much-sought-after giga-factory on national soil is “very low”.
Tesla Gigafactory Europe is a proposed manufacturing plant for Tesla, Inc. to be located in Europe. It is to be a combined electric battery manufacturing facility and automobile factory. The factory was previously referred to as Gigafactory 2 until 22 February 2017, when Tesla began to refer to the SolarCity Gigafactory in Buffalo, New York as Gigafactory 2. The Europe Gigafactory will be named either Gigafactory 3, 4, or 5.
Reported locations said to be under consideration are Czech Republic near Prague, Portugal, with Europe’s biggest lithium reserves and one of the biggest solar centers in the world, Poland and Hungary. Although Germany’s then-Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy Sigmar Gabriel has stated that Tesla is in talks with the government over a Gigafactory there, a Tesla spokesperson said in January that the company has no current plan for a battery factory in Germany.
Portugal was one of the countries that received a delegation from Tesla, as the Ministry of Economy advanced in November.
The port of Sines, the links to Spain, and the many hours of high sun exposure in this region, are some of the factors that can cause this region to be chosen, if this investment takes place.
Rui Miguel Coelho believes that “Portugal has a very high chance of being eligible for investment, or at least for the close call of three locations, that is absolutely safe and right.”
This investment represents half of the Portuguese GDP in direct and indirect counterparts to 20 years,” he emphasized.
Colin Gillingham, ex-Tesla employee and now a consultant is optimistic about Portugal’s chances. “I think there is a real possibility”, highlighting the lithium that exists in the country and the “culture that supports innovation and entrepreneurship.”
Portugal will have to accept Lithium mining on a wide and destructive scale in an opinion of some if it is to compete with Chile, Australia, Argentina and China triggering an outcry from ecological associations and interest groups.