French lithium for electric vehicle batteries

Producing lithium "made in France" is the ambition of Eramet and Électricité de Strasbourg, who are involved in a joint project for the sustainable development of Alsatian lithium.

In January 2023, Eramet and Électricité de Strasbourg (ÉS) signed an exclusive memorandum of understanding  to jointly study the development of lithium production in Alsace, France, from geothermal brines in the municipality of Rittershoffen.

This agreement allows the partners to deepen their cooperation in order to eventually operate a geothermal lithium extraction, refining and production capacity.

Eramet will contribute its unique and innovative direct lithium extraction process developed for its lithium project in Argentina, as well as its know-how in the extraction, refining, production and commercialization of lithium – a critical metal for the energy transition and for the manufacture of electric batteries.

This French production aims at an annual target of 10,000 tons of lithium carbonate, corresponding to the production of approximately 250,000 electric vehicle batteries per year.

How does geothermal lithium capture work?

Eramet and ÉS have been cooperating for several years already. Three years of research on the "EuGeLi" (European Geothermal Lithium Brine) project have demonstrated Eramet's ability to capture lithium from a geothermal source to produce a battery-grade carbonate, a world first.

A direct lithium extraction unit was installed on the reinjection branch of an existing geothermal well operated by Électricité de Strasbourg. This unit is composed of columns filled with active material, a real lithium "sponge" that selectively extracts this element (loading). This material is in the form of small granules.

research lithium

The lithium is recovered by passing slightly saline water through these columns (elution). The result is a concentrated lithium solution that will be purified before the battery-grade lithium carbonate precipitation step. The lithium-depleted brine can then be reinjected into the subsoil.

The lithium carbonate, the final product of the process, must be of very high purity to supply the Li-ion battery industry. Eramet's innovative direct lithium extraction process has proven its effectiveness from a geothermal source in Alsace, and allows for local and sustainable production with high yields and efficiency.

Infographics of the EuGeLi project's lithium extraction process

Efficient and responsible extraction

The main challenge was to adapt the process developed by Eramet for its project in Argentina to the Alsatian geothermal brines and their operating conditions, in particular the pressure and temperature conditions of the well's reinjection branch (80°C, 20 bars).

Moreover, as the pumped brine is then reinjected into the subsoil, the lithium extraction process must not in any way impact or disturb the natural subsoil environment.

The project also benefits from an almost zero carbon footprint thanks to the use of the energy produced by the geothermal heat.

A look back on “EuGeLi”

In 2019, the collaborative research and innovation project "EuGeLi" (European Geothermal Lithium Brine) brought together a consortium of nine partners led by Eramet, including industrialists, academics and research centers. Its €3.9 million budget was almost 85% financed by the EIT-Raw Materials, a European Union body.

The project was divided into three major and interconnected workstreams:
1. Evaluating the lithium ressources in European geothermal water. This assessment addressed issues related to the origin of the lithium and attempted to establish predictive models based on geological parameters, including the temperature of the water and the make-up of sub-soil rocks.

2. Developing the direct extraction process. Initially, Eramet's teams sought to optimize, on a laboratory scale, the lithium process developed for the Group's project in Argentina, so that it could be used in the pressure and temperature conditions of Alsace's geothermal energy. Two direct extraction pilots have been carried out on a geothermal well. The last pilot took place at the Eramet Ideas center in December 2021, where teams produced the first kilograms of battery-grade lithium carbonate.

3. Feeding a study that established various economic models for producing lithium from geothermal deposits. This study was designed to assess the overall profitability and feasibility of an industrial project for lithium and energy co-production.

Board members

EuGeLi project's Board members

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