Mining company Savannah Resources’ proposal has secured environmental approval from the Portuguese Government for what could become the largest lithium mine in Western Europe.
Savannah received preliminary approval in 2021 for its open-pit mine, but the Portuguese Environment Regulator (APA) at the time demanded changes that were submitted in a revised proposal this year.
The Barroso mine is a high-grade, low-iron, lithium project in northern Portugal, in a place that is also a world heritage site for agriculture. According to Savannah, the country has 60,000t of known lithium reserves. However, there is strong opposition to lithium mining from environmentalists and local communities who fear extraction could destroy the environment and nearby farms.
Nevertheless, on 31 May 2023, APA approved Savannah’s environmental impact assessment (EIA), on the condition that it implements a wide range of damage-control measures such as limiting the removal of vegetation from the project area, not taking water from a nearby river, and carrying out landscaping once extraction has ended, reported Reuters.
Despite local resistance, the Portuguese Government approved six sites for lithium exploration last year. Among them is the Savannah project, which is expected to commence production in 2025.
The company hopes to produce 5,000tpa of lithium from Barroso, notably for electric vehicle (EV) batteries.
Portugal is already Europe’s largest lithium producer, mining close to 900tpa in 2020, but local miners currently sell their output almost exclusively to the ceramics industry. Now, they want to start producing the higher-quality lithium that goes into EVs and electronic appliances in alignment with the EU’s Green Deal goal of becoming climate neutral by 2050.
APA’s decision allows the Barroso project to progress to the next stages of the licensing process, which will include a social impact assessment. The regulator has already said the project will need to offer a “socio-economic compensation package” that includes, for instance, paying royalties to the municipality where the mine will operate.