The green hills where Paulo Pires has for years brought sheep to graze above his village may quickly be transformed by the race to power electric autos.
Signs of transformation already give him sleepless nights. Hundreds of drill holes throughout the countryside show where miners need to excavate the land for lithium, a vital element for batteries utilized in EVs, smartphones, and energy storage.
Pires and his rural property are on one of the frontlines of a conflict pitting firms eager to take advantage of Portugal’s 60,000 tonnes of known lithium reserves against locals decided to hold their rights over the land and cease the exploitation.
It puts the minority government in a tight spot at home. Rising opposition to lithium exploration by local communities, which often own and manage rural regions, could mean miners reach a deadlock and seek government support to seize land.
Lisbon’s actions will also have repercussions past its borders. Its reserves could also be modest in comparison with Australia and Chile, the world’s top lithium producers; however, Portugal is central to Europe’s offer to cut dependence on lithium imports.
Tapping European deposits of the white gold (platinum) is a vital part of the European Union’s (EU’s) ambition to secure more of the battery value chain as the continent’s car manufacturers launch electric automobiles, a European Commission spokesperson stated.
Europe, with 3% of worldwide battery production capability, has no lithium refineries and relies on imported raw supplies.