A lithium mining project is raising hopes of an economic revival in a region of central France hit by deindustrialization, but project promoters face growing concern from residents and, in some cases , to the opposition of elected officials.
Read the original article in French here.
The Beauvoir mine project in Allier, first announced in October 2022, could become an indicator of the green transition in France and the EU.
The European Union wants to strengthen the national supply of energy transition minerals such as lithium as part of its flagship project Critical Raw Materials Act (CRMA)filed by the European Commission in March.
To meet the growing demand for electric vehicles and other green technologies, France is preparing a “large mining inventory” to explore the resources of its subsoil and has seen growing interest in domestic lithium mining projects.
This is where the Beauvoir mine could play a central role.
In October last year, French mining company Imerys unveiled its EMILI project to exploit the significant lithium reserves found in an old kaolin mine.
Prospectors have identified a deposit of around 1 million tonnes of lithium, exploitable over 25 years, which could prove to be a source of wealth for the region.
This project, which aims to be sustainable and local, has received the support of the government at the highest level, with the Minister of the Economy Bruno Le Maire affirming that it would contribute to the French objective of producing “two million electric vehicles in France by 2030” and “would drastically reduce our consumption”. we have to import lithium.”
According to Imerys, the objective is to produce 34,000 tonnes of lithium hydroxide per year by 2028, or enough to equip around 700,000 vehicles per year.
The planned investment is substantial – around €1 billion in total to cover the extraction, processing and transportation of the valuable mineral, including the construction of a new purification plant to extract lithium from granite and the renovation of a local railway station to transport the white alkali metal between the two sites.
The project could create around 1,000 direct and indirect jobs, raising the hopes of an entire region marked by decades of deindustrialization and gloomy economic prospects.
However, the project is also subject to environmental constraints.
Located on the border of the departments of Allier and Puy-de-Dôme, the Beauvoir site is located in an area rich in biodiversity. The quarry is located in the 2,000 hectare Colettes forest, a Natura 2000 site home to some of the most beautiful beech trees and many threatened species.
Elected environmentalists from the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region quickly became interested in the project and organized a visit to the mine a month after the project was announced.
Aware that lithium is essential for storing renewable electricity and that this project would allow France and the EU to strengthen their energy sovereignty, the local Greens argue that this lithium mine, located on a former industrial site, could also revitalize a region hit by decades of deindustrialization.
But the Green Party also has its red lines. “Many things remain unclear, including the crucial issue of water. We will follow this closely,” declared Anne Babian-Lhermet, Green MP elected to the Allier regional council.
In the Green Deal, the European Commission emphasized that “active public participation and trust in the transition are essential for policies to work and be accepted.”
But projects linked to the green transition can also give rise to strong local opposition, leading to delays or even cancellations.
The Beauvoir mining project is no exception.
Despite five public meetings held between November and December 2022, residents’ associations were formed, determined to see the project abandoned.
The “stopmines03” collective and the “Preserve the Colettes forest” association, which are at the forefront of this local opposition, have continued to raise awareness of the risks of this mining project for the environment.
They point out in particular the risk of water pollution in the Bosse massif, often considered the “water tower” of the region with its 350 classified sources. The associations estimate that two million cubic meters of water will be necessary to operate the mine, the equivalent of the annual consumption of 26,000 inhabitants.
According to them, the extraction of two million tonnes of rock per year would also cause noise and vibrations, affecting the fauna, flora and local population.
In its response to local residents, Imerys indicated that impact studies would be carried out.
But the opposition is not limited to local associations. The Saint-Bonnet-de-Rochefort municipal council voted against any plan to convert the local station to lithium transport.
To avoid confrontation and fulfill its obligations to consult and work with communities affected by the project, Imerys turned to the National Commission for Public Debate (CNDP) July 13.
The CNDP has decided to organize a debate on the EMILI project next year for a maximum of four months. At the end, a report containing the arguments put forward by the public will be sent to the project leader.
If necessary, the project may be modified or canceled.
The Lithium project is a “godsend”
Developments in the Beauvoir mine file in Allier could set the tone for future lithium mining projects in France.
In the same region, the Sudmines company has submitted applications for lithium and hydrogen exploration permits to municipalities in order to revive its mining industry to support the green and digital transition. However, V, but local resistance and long authorization procedures could reveal themselves to ic-Le-Comte, Coudes and Parent without informing the mayors.
“This is a clear case of dysfunction of state services,” declared Vincent Tourlonias, the mayor of Parent, on France 3 Auvergne.
This situation is all the more surprising given that a prospecting file has been available since the end of 2022 and has even been declared valid by the state authorities. Furthermore, a public consultation took place without the mayors being informed.
It is unlikely that this episode will create a climate of trust between citizens and local elected officials.
(Under the direction of Daniel Eck, Frédéric Simon and Alice Taylor)