One of the biggest European deposits of lithium can be found in Dubi, northern Bohemia, which may bring more prosperity to the area as this soft metal may turn into a material of the future thanks to electric cars with lithium batteries, weekly Respekt writes in its issue out on Monday.
The capacity of the deposit under the mountain village of Cinovec is estimated at 330,000 tonnes, said Otto Janout, from the Geomet company.
At first, Geomet was not interested in the lithium very much due to its low concentration, which would make it expensive to separate it from the ore.
But then Elon Musk from Tesla Motors said lithium was a new gasoline and Geomet realised that most car makers started seriously considering the production of electric vehicles, Janout said.
Working as a prospector in Canada for most of his life, Janout wanted to use his experience when he returned to his homeland after the fall of the communist regime. He studied old geological maps from the 1970s and 1980s and found out that there are still many metals under the Krusne hory in northern Bohemia.
The mining in the Ore Mountains ended in the 1990s because it was not profitable, but the value of these metals gradually increased. In 2010, Janout and three other geologists came up with the idea of renewed mining and the Environment Ministry approved their planned geological surveys, Respekt writes.
The price of lithium carbonate that is sold on world markets tripled in 2015 and it further increased by 47 percent in the first three months of this year to $6000 per tonne. The Cinovec deposit is not far from plants of the car makers Skoda, BMW and Mercedes.
Dubi, which was known mainly for its high number of brothels and night clubs until recently, supports the mining, hoping that it would bring new jobs and finances to the town, Respekt writes.
It seems that as soon as gasoline and diesel vehicles are at least partly replaced with electric cars, the Cinovec lithium mine will be a gold mine. However, the situation is a bit more complicated, the weekly writes.
The increase in lithium price may stop. The biggest deposits of lithium are in salt flats in Australia and Latin America and the mining is controlled by four companies that do not provide information about their mines. For example, if they wanted to liquidate the new competition, they might mine more lithium and markedly decrease its price.
Moreover, the opening of a new deposit is financially demanding.
“We asked the captains of Czech industry for an investment, but they rejected us as they considered the plan risky,” Janout told Respekt.
In 2013, Geomet was bought by the Australian firm European Metals.
The key factor is how expensive the mining of lithium would be. Lithium mining is cheapest in Argentina, Bolivia and Chile where it costs under $2000 per tonne.
Janout said he believes that Geomet can mine lithium even cheaper thanks to a technology that he keeps secret.
The only other big European lithium deposit is in Jadar, Serbia, which the global mining company Rio Tinto is currently exploring.
Janout said lithium mining in Cinovec might start in 2022, but he added that it depended on many circumstances, the weekly writes.