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Europe: German Solar Firm Goes Hunting For Lithium

Essential for building electric car batteries and solar technology, lithium is a raw material of the future. Now a German firm is searching for deposits of the valuable resource in the country’s Ore Mountains. Geologists believe that some 1.5 billion dollars’ worth of the light metal lies underground.

The road sign behind Armin Müller may read “summer trail,” but the first thing the business manager does is bundle up. It definitely doesn’t feel like summer up here, not even like spring. Cold gusts of wind and occasional rain showers have the head of the Solarworld Solicium company reaching for his black windbreaker. His little troop of guests is shivering too.

Müller’s company, which specializes in photovoltaic products, has invited a handful of journalists to the edge of the Erzbegbirge, or Ore Mountains, near Altenberg. Here, on the German side of the border with the Czech Republic, SolarWorld is drilling for an underground lithium deposit. At least 40,000 tons of the light metal is believed to be hidden on the German side alone. It would be a treasure worth some $1.5 billion (€1.14 billion). “And that’s the lowest estimate,” says Müller.
His company aims to find out by the end of the year how much lithium actually lies in the ground. The hope is to explore the Czech side too, where at least 80,000 tons of the valuable substance is also likely waiting. The license to explore in Cinovec was issued several days ago.

The most important tool in the excavation is the drilling machine, which Müller demonstrates to his guests on the German side. The loud machinery tears a ten-centimeter wide hole into the earth. A few meters away, outside Zinnwald church, a similar drill awaits.

Solar Panel Storage Batteries

The machine has already drilled down to a depth of more than 80 meters to reach the rock formation that contains lithium. Core samples are placed in labeled wooden boxes. While the first samples are a red color, further down they are a speckled dark grey. And then, bingo! The sought-after metal is hidden within the so-called Zinnwaldite, a mineral ore that holds up to 0.3 percent lithium.
More spiegel.de

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