Fri. Sep 22nd, 2023

In recent months, France has been stepping up its efforts to extract lithium, an essential mineral for the electric battery industry. On a visit to Chile, a country with one of the world’s largest reserves of this mineral, France’s Minister of Foreign Trade Olivier Becht was not one to miss the opportunity.

He stated that France intends to “contribute to the Chilean adventure of extracting and exploiting lithium, obviously in line with European and particularly French needs”. To convince his future partners, the Minister emphasized France’s know-how in lithium extraction. “There’s no point in building battery gigafactories if you don’t have the materials to make them”, he reminded his audience from the capital Santiago. Several lithium battery manufacturing plants are planned in northern France, and the first opened at the end of May.

French know-how as an argument

To differentiate himself from other countries eyeing Chilean reserves, Mr. Becht asserted that France had a unique technological offering. “We have the ability to extract lithium while considerably reducing water consumption”, he said, making the ecological argument as well as the cost one.

At the end of April, Chilean President Gabriel Boric announced a national strategy for lithium mining, to take advantage of soaring demand. This initiative envisages a public-private partnership, in addition to the system already in place. Currently, through a system of concessions, two private companies extract the white powder from the Atacama salt flats, 1,700 km north of Santiago.

During his visit, Olivier Becht met the Chilean Ministers of Mines, Energy, Transport and Economy. He also discussed cooperation between the two countries in the production of “green” hydrogen. This energy of the future is produced using renewable electricity – and not fossil fuels, as in the case of traditional (so-called “grey”) hydrogen. Earlier in the week, Mr. Becht also visited Brazil, where he met several ministers, including the Minister of Mines and Energy.

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