Lithium de France, a subsidiary of the French group Arverne, has raised 44 million in funds for the explorations to build its first well. The company, based in Bischwiller (Bas-Rhin), near Strasbourg, will develop two synergistic projects around geothermal heat and green lithium in northern Alsace.
The two main investors in the fund Equinox Ventures, besides Pau-based energy company Arverne Group (55%), are Norwegian giant Equinor (formerly Statoil) and Norwegian energy and aluminum producer Hydro. A first round of funding has already raised 8 million euros in November 2021. According to Guillaume Borrel, CEO of Lithium de France, heat production could start as early as 2025, and lithium production a year later.
1 500 tonnes of lithium per year
“Geothermal waters constitute a clean and inexhaustible resource of heat for local use, and allow for the extraction of lithium, the potential of which is well known in the Bas-Rhin”, explains Guillaume Borrel.
The company, which has an exclusive license to search for geothermal deposits in an area of 171 km² north of Haguenau (some 30 km of Strasbourg), currently has 20 employees. The number of employees is expected to increase fivefold when operations start.
The forecast capacity is 20 megawatts for the energy component and 1 500 tonnes per year for lithium. Production in the form of hydroxide monohydrate will enable its use in batteries for EV, for example.
Once suitable sites have been identified, Lithium de France will install two wells to access the resource, which is present in the form of brine (water almost or fully saturated with salt) between 2 000 and 3 000 meters below ground. Two other installations will be needed to extract the calories and redistribute them in the form of heat and to extract the lithium.
Real lithium sector in the Alsace region
Lithium de France is not the only company trying to exploit these geological resources in Alsace. Electricity de Strasbourg, the local subsidiary of French multinational EDF, has been operating two boreholes in Rittershoffen since 2017, good for an installed capacity of 27 megawatts.
The Vulcan group, of Australian origin, is also already active on the German bank of the Rhine. Finally, manufacturer Viridian has announced a 160 million euros investment to build a lithium hydroxide plant in the region.
“A real lithium sector is indeed being established in the region”, says Jean-Michel Staerlé, head of business development at Adria, the economic development agency in the Alsace region. Currently, with the presence of major international groups such as Siemens, Mars Wrigley, and SEW Usocome, the sector already accounts for 15 000 jobs. “This local heat supply is particularly interesting for companies that will be forced to redeploy a carbon-free activity by 2030”, explains Staerlé.
Danger for earthquakes
Yet the exploitation of geothermal energy in the region is not all sunshine and roses. Just as natural gas extraction in the Groningen area causes earthquakes and consequently damage to homes, local people are not always supportive of this form of energy extraction either.
Indeed, in 2019 and 2020, several earthquakes were also felt in the Strasbourg metropolitan area, caused by the activity of Géorhin (formerly Fonroche). Through drilling and hydraulic stimulation, the company tried to set up a cogeneration unit that would have made it possible to supply 20 000 homes with electricity and soft heat.
The frequency of induced earthquakes and their magnitude, up to 3,59 on the Richter scale, had led the prefecture to withdraw the operator’s operating permit. Fonroche’s assets have since been taken over by the Arverne group, the majority shareholder of Lithium de France. “However, we do not intend to take over Fonroche’s former operations, which are completely different from ours”, Guillaume Borrel said.
Scarce and desired commodity
Of Europe’s supply of rare earth metal lithium, 97% comes from China. Europe should be able to produce at least 40% green technology itself by 2030, the European Union believes. By 2050, for example, the EU would need 57 times more lithium than it needs today. Europe would therefore like to put more effort into its own mines.
The industrial minerals group Imerys will also start mining lithium in France by 2027. Their site in Allier, in the center of France, will be “one of the largest” in Europe and accounts for an investment of one billion euros.
Ready to join the conversation?
You must be an active subscriber to leave a comment.