France launches a satellite exploration project for lithium in Mongolia

Following the signing of a partnership agreement on critical materials with Australia at the end of September, France on 12 October signed a similar agreement with Mongolia, during a visit to Paris of the country’s President U.Khutelsukh on 12 October.

The French Geological Survey, which signed the agreement for the French side, declared that this new partnership “should enable the launch of various projects of common interest, enabling Mongolia to better understand and exploit its critical materials resources”.

Following the announcement of the partnership, France and Mongolia launched a satellite exploration project for lithium in Mongolia – a project seen as key for Mongolia and the EU, which is keen to diversify supplies of strategic materials needed for the green transition.

The partnership between France and Mongolia comes amid a fresh EU push for greater autonomy on strategic minerals. In March, the European Commission tabled a proposal for a Critical Raw Materials Act, aiming to decrease the EU’s dependence on China for minerals like rare earths or lithium, which are used in wind turbines and electric cars.

Currently, EU member states are dependent on imports for 75% to 100% of their supply needs in key minerals.

For lithium alone, France would have enough reserves to equip between 700,000 and 950,000 cars with electric batteries every year for several decades, which is just under half of the French government’s annual target to produce two million electric vehicles by 2030.

However, self-sufficiency in lithium alone will not be enough to secure the French and European energy transition – as there are currently 34 minerals on the EU’s list of critical raw materials.

This is why French President Emmanuel Macron announced in September the imminent launch of a “major inventory of mining resources”. France’s resources include nickel, cobalt, magnesium, copper, tungsten and rare earths, as well as “many minor resources needed to adjust the properties of critical and strategic materials”, Christophe Poinssot, deputy director-general of BRGM, told a press conference in early October.

French authorities are currently examining the scope and timeframe of the future inventory. The timetable for the exercise has not yet been defined, but pilot operations have already begun, according to experts at the BRGM, who say “we must be ready to move as quickly as possible”.

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