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  • Writer's picture@ Cynthia Adina Kirkwood

Lithium Mine Threatens Way of Life

Updated: Apr 9, 2022

For three years, many in Montalegre , Portugal, have opposed the proposed mine with protests, petitions and links with other groups. At the end of a recent meeting, people stood and sang the patriotic and rousing Grandola, Vila Morena.


Most residents oppose the proposed lithium mine in Montalegre because of air pollution, noise and the high demand for water. Simply put, they oppose it because they are protecting their way of life, which earned them United Nations’ recognition.

The economic benefits have not persuaded the populace in the northern Portuguese district of Vila Real on the Spanish border, according to SIC Noticias (March 21).

“The mining project would have destroyed the landscape and made farming impossible here,” said Armando Pinto, coordinator of Montalegre com Vida, the community group that spearheaded opposition to the project, to Politico (April 22, 2021) after the failure of the last Environmental Impact Assessment.

The region’s traditional farming economy gained status as a United Nations Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System in 2017. Barroso Agro-Sylvo-Pastoral System integrates a part of Peneda Geres National Park.

The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the proposed “Romano” lithium mine is open to public consultation, not just to the local population but also to those living elsewhere in Portugal in the cities as well as the countryside.

On March 23, the deadline for public consultation was extended 30 working days until May 10, according to Voz de Tras os Montes (March 23), at the request of associations and other groups as well as individuals who argued that the complexity of the documents warranted more time.

I live in the foothills of the Serra da Estrela in central Portugal, and I oppose lithium mining. “Nao a Mina; Sim a Vida” (“No to Mines; Yes to Life”) is the chant of the movement against lithium mining in Portugal.

The Project

The “Exploration of Lithium and Associated Mineral Deposits” project calls for mixed open-cast and underground mining as well as the construction of a hydrometallurgical plant for processing the ore.

The project proponent is Lusorecursos Portugal Lithium S.A.; the entity responsible for licensing is the Directorate-General for Energy and Geology (DGEG), and the agency responsible for the Environmental Impact Assessment is the Portuguese Environment Agency (APA).

The expected lifespan of the lithium mining operation is 13 years, and the industrial facilities are expected to have a minimum lifespan of 20 years.

The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) says:

“A maximum consumption of 50 cubic meters of drinking water per day is expected and would be provided by Aguas do Norte, and the use of 10,000 cubic meters per day of industrial water of which about half will be reused in the process after treatment in a water treatment plant.”

The industrial water use of 10,000 cubic meters per day equals 10 million liters. An attendee at a March 2 informational meeting held by the Agencia Portuguesa do Ambiente (APA) later said:

“The volume is so big – 10 million liters per day, uninterrupted – that . . . given the frequent cycles of water scarcity that we will, unfortunately, witness in Portugal, the abuse in consumption will be more than enough for the commission of assessment to give good points to APA to stamp ‘unfavorable’ on the project that is still under public discussion on the participation portal.”

The project study says that it would transform, concentrate and convert raw material into high purity lithium hydroxide.

The EIA says: “The fact that the project is not only limited to the extraction of lithium-rich ore but also its recovery through on-site transformation into lithium hydroxide will allow the planned investment in the order of €650 million to translate into added value for local populations in terms of job creation and development of economic activities in the region”.

The study points to a “mixed solution” for the exploration method in which open-cast mining will be carried out in an area covering the central zone of the former mining area of Beça followed by underground mining, which will use explosives, reported ECO (February 14).

The EIA proposes that the industrial facilities and the underground mining will operate continuously (24 hours a day, seven days a week). The open–cast mining would take place on weekdays between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.

During the implementation phase, 100 jobs are expected to be created, while in the operational phase, 376 direct jobs are expected: 85 in the extraction process; 205 in the industrial process, and 86 in other activities. The EIA added that there would be the creation of more indirect jobs.

As for the impact of the mine, the study says that “they are mainly determined by the changes introduced in the territory with the operation of the mine and construction of all associated infrastructure, by the movement of vehicles and machinery and also by the lithium ore refining process.

“In addition, they also are determined by the benefits that justify the project, namely the exploitation of a strategic resource in the current energy transition and consequent fight against climate change and its harmful effects, and the investment in the regional and national economy, national economy and employability. So, the impacts may be positive or negative and assume different importance in the project phases of the undertaking.”

According to ECO (February 14):

“Negative effects are listed in terms of local emissions of atmospheric pollutants, in the increase of noise in the area, in the indirect effects of deforestation; of underground water resource, in the loss of habitats and disturbance of fauna and flora, especially to the Iberian wolf and, in terms of human health, the “potential negative impacts derived from increased noise, vibrations and atmospheric pollutants”.

To guarantee a positive balance of the project, minimization measures, including environmental and landscape recovery plans, monitoring of surface and underground water resources, would be implemented along with a registering of noise, vibrations, air quality, and the life of bats and the vulnerable species of Iberian wolves.

In socioeconomic terms, the measures would “involve the development of a policy and partnership with local entities to maximize the positive effects of the project at the local and regional level, namely in terms of employment, vocational training and boosting the business fabric.

Four project alternatives were studied with different combinations of solutions for the location of the tailings deposit and of the complex. The EIA concluded that “the project presents environmental viability.”

The last EIA was rejected outright. In April 2021, the Ministry of Environment and Climate, Joao Pedro Matos Fernandes, accused “the promoter of a lack of professionalism given the technical shortcomings of the EIA presented. He said, “even that it would be doubtful for the project to go ahead.”

How We Got Here

The anticipated increased demand for electric cars has propelled lithium into the category of “white gold” as mining companies compete for extraction contracts around the world. The light metal is used in batteries for phones, laptops as well as electric cars.

Meanwhile, around the country, there has been a groundswell of sustained opposition to lithium mining from citizen and environmental groups and municipal presidents, who argue that their livelihoods and heritage would be destroyed by this activity.

The most recent lithium-related public consultation regarded proposed exploration in eight areas. It closed on December 10, 2021. Two months later, the government excluded two out of eight proposed areas and nearly halved the area in the remaining six for lithium exploration.

What seems like a simple and elegant solution to green energy is fraught with hazards for traditional livelihoods and the health of people as well as the preservation of fauna and flora.

Portugal is not the only country fighting to protect its land. Serbia, for example, tore up contracts with mining giant, Rio Tinto, in its “breadbasket” of the Jadar Valley, according to BBC News (January 21). And Chile, the world’s second-largest lithium producer, suspended a million-dollar lithium tender, reported France24 (January 15).

The New York Times has been covering the stories behind the global transition from oil and the scramble for resources that will power a clean energy economy in a series called Race to the Future.

In Portugal, it seems that the businesses, scientists, engineers, academics and politicians who advocate lithium mining are not talking to the shepherds, beekeepers, farmers, vintners and olive oil producers who would be affected by the mines. They live in two different worlds, much less not sitting at the same table. There is a lack of communication and, therefore, trust. Imagine if all the parties respected each other and, therefore, listened to and spoke with each other. The sharing of old knowledge and new disciplines would propel Portugal into becoming a true powerhouse.

Who Is Lusorecursos Portugal Lithium

The company was incorporated on March 25, 2019, according to Racius, an organization that tracks Portuguese businesses, which also reported its share capital as €50,000 and the location of its headquarters in Montalegre.

Three days after incorporation, on March 28, representatives of Lusorecurosos signed a 19-page contract with a representative of the Ministry of Environment and Transition Energy of the Directorate-General of Energy and Geology (DGEG). The contract gave the new company concession to the exploration of mineral deposits of lithium and associated minerals in a cadastre of 825.4 hectares, called “Romano”, in the parishes of Morgade and Sarraquinhos in the municipality of Montalegre.

The mine is called “Romano” because part of the concession area was a site of tin exploration during the occupation of the Roman Empire.

The third clause of the contract called for a €250,000 bond to be paid by Lusorecursos to DGEG.

The ninth clause calls for an annual operating charge that must be paid to DGEG at the sole discretion and option of this: a. pay a percentage of 10% of the net profits of exploration; b. pay a progressive percentage, whose minimum is 4% of the pit value of the mining products or concentrates shipped or used. A three-page attachment displays a chart that details percentages based on the U.S. dollar value of lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide.

How much are we talking about?

Lusorecurosos claimed that as much as 30 million tons of lithium petalite could be extracted from the site, reported Politico (April 22, 2021). Petalite is an ore of lithium that is converted to spodumene by heating at very high temperatures.

In 2016, the price of spodumene was forecast to be $500 to $600 per ton for years to come. reported Statistica (July 21, 2016). However, the price spiked at above $800 per ton in January 2018. In September 2020, production had increased more than consumption, reducing the price to $400 per ton, according to Metal Bulletin (October 11, 2020) and Lithium: Resources and Energy Quarterly (December 2019).

Due to its high lithium content, spodumene is considered the most important ore mineral. A typical run of mine ore can contain 1% to 2% lithium oxide, while a typical spudomene concentrate suitable for lithium carbonate production contains 6% to 7% lithium oxide (75% to 87% spodumene).

How is spodumene converted to lithium?

Lithium can be extracted from spodumene concentrates after roasting at about 1050 degrees C and sulphuric acid-roasting operations at about 200 degrees C, according to SGS Mineral Services (October 2010).

The lower price for concentrates reflects the cost involved in the conversion to lithium hydroxide or carbonate, recovery rates at the conversion plants and the need for profits at these facilities, reported S&P Global: Market Intelligence. Lithium hydroxide currently receives a premium compared to lithium carbonate, which averaged US$2,458 per ton in 2018 and is expected to remain at similar levels this year, with the first quarter 2019 average premium at US$2,300 per ton.

The London Metal Exchange, a HKEX (Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing) company, reported weekly prices in U.S. dollars per kilogram of lithium hydroxide: 63.50 (March 3); 60.50 (February 24); 56.75 (February 17), and 46.75 (February 10).

There are 907.18 kilograms in one ton.

“The new LME battery-grade hydroxide cash-settled futures contract allows stakeholders throughout the lithium supply chain – from the source to the end-user – to mitigate against price volatility. . . . We worked in partnership with Fastmarkets MB to develop an LME Lithium Hydroxide CIF contract, which launched in July 2021.”

“Most lithium products are traded using long-term contracts, and prices vary based on both the lithium content and impurities and the price-negotiating strategies of the operating company. These differences in prices between various products and within individual product types make it difficult to compare different operations on a like-for-like basis on the cost curve,” reported SGS Mineral Services.

Yes, it is very difficult.

Institutional Partners of Lusorecursos

According to its website, Lusorecursos has seven institutional partners: EIT RawMaterials; European Battery Alliance, EBA 250; Universidade de Aveiro; Universidade do Minho; Battery Cluster Portugal; Cluster Portugal Mineral Resources, and Centro Desportivo & Cultural de Montalegre.

In 2019, the chief executive of Lusorecursos, Ricardo Miguel da Costa Pinheiro, told Reuters that the company was negotiating a 400 million euro deal with several international players.

“The funding is being negotiated with companies from the Far East, but we are also in contact with companies from Europe and the Middle East,” said Pinheiro to Reuters (November 27, 2019).

Those talks seem to have been unsuccessful, and the price tag has increased to €650 million.

Let us take a closer look at some of the partners:

EIT RawMaterials and European Battery Alliance

Both EIT (European Institute of Innovation and Technology) RawMaterials and the European Battery Alliance, EBA 250 are European Union bodies.

EIT RawMaterials says that it “aims to build resilience and strategic autonomy for Europe’s rare earth and magnet value chains. It will identify barriers, opportunities and investment possibilities in the raw materials value chain, while also addressing sustainability and social impact.

The European Battery Alliance (EBA) was created in 2017 by the European Commission, European Union member states, industry and the scientific community. It says that its annual market value is estimated at €250 billion from 2025 onwards. “Batteries are a strategic part of Europe’s clean and digital transition and a key enabling technology, essential to the automotive sector’s competitiveness. Therefore, the Commission aims to make Europe a global leader in sustainable battery production and use.”

The industrial development program of the EBA, the EB250, is managed by EIT InnoEnergy, a subsidiary of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), which is another body of the European Union. EBA250 brings together 250 entities from mining to recycling “with the common objective to build a strong and competitive European battery industry”.

Battery Cluster Portugal

Battery Cluster Portugal is a battery value chain that began to be developed in March 2021, according to Jornal i (March 29, 2021). The working group brings together nearly three dozen companies and research centers.

“The objective is to launch the Portuguese lithium project in all its aspects within two or three years: extraction, refining, creation of cells, battery assembly, marketing, use and recycling.”

Cluster Portugal Mineral Resources

Cluster Portugal Mineral Resources (Associaçao Cluster Portugal Mineral Resources, ACPMR), recognized in 2017, is financed by COMPETE 2020; Portugal 2020, and the European Union Regional Development.

ACPMR says that it promotes knowledge and sustainable economic value for mineral resources, boosting the export capacity and the added value.

Technologies, Environment and Security

Technologies listed on Lusorecursos’ website as follows: edp; STET-CAT; metso Outotec; Vermeer; DATAMINE; Pedro Magalhaes; Vila plen Construçoes; srk consulting; Basler & Hofmann; Patterson & Cooke; GRID; Amberg Engineering; Siemens; HATCH; Eco Firma Portugal, and PBMIS.

And finally, the company website lists under the heading, Environment and Security, the following: AGRL.PRO AMBIENTE Consultores, who undertook and completed the current Environmental Impact Assessment; matriz de risco, and medseghi.

Informational Meeting in Montalegre

The Agencia Portuguesa do Ambiente (APA) held a well-attended informational meeting about the proposed project of Lusorecursos Portugal Lithium on March 2 at the Municipal Auditorium of Montalegre.

According to some, there was more presentation than answers to questions.

Water supply and company experience, of which the firm has three years of planning, were concerns.

About water, the EIA says:

“Three types of water would be consumed in the installation: potable water, industrial water and demineralized water produced from the treatment of industrial water, which would be added to reserved water for firefighting.

“To minimize water consumption, the project provides for the production of industrial water from raw water originating whenever possible from rainwater captured inside the concession area as well as the reuse of water from the mine and CAM processes, namely the water from the mine operation and wastewater from the concentration stage of the ore which, after treatment, would be incorporated as raw water.

Politico (April 22, 2021) reported:

Armando Pinto, the coordinator of Montalegre com Vida, said residents also were concerned about the risk to water flows from nearby mountain springs and the possibility that runoff from the complex’s industrial facilities could contaminate the neighboring Alto Rabagao reservoir.

“Most of northern Portugal drinks water that comes from here. It’s shocking that national authorities have even considered this.”

At the end of the meeting, the audience stood and sang the rousing Grandola, Vila Morena. The song was used as a radio-broadcast signal by the Portuguese Armed Forces Movement during its bloodless military coup in 1974, which overthrew 50 years of an authoritarian regime.

Prime Minister Antonio Costa

Prime Minister Antonio Costa presided over an event hosted by the International Iberian Nanotechnology Laboratory (INL) to dedicate the Battery Value Chain, according to IBNL (June 9, 2021). INL is a joint Portuguese and Spanish organization, which is based in Braga. The Prime Minister said:

“Portugal cannot fail to be at the forefront of this re-industrialization effort. For the first time in many technological transitions, we are one of the countries that have better and larger natural reserves of the raw material that is at the base of this transition.”

Antonio Costa highlighted Portugal’s lithium reserves “stressing that the territories in which the extraction of that resource will be carried out must have compensations,” reported INL.

Compensations . . .

Costa said that lack of funding cannot be a reason for the country not to assume a leading role:

“The European Union has mobilized, whether in funds of a competitive nature or in funds allocated to the country, financial resources of an absolutely extraordinary nature that we must have the capacity to mobilize.”

As an example, Antonio Costa cited an amount of 1 billion euros for the mobilizing agendas included in the Recovery and Resilience Plan “with the potential to grow another 12 billion euros if there is capacity and effective demand for its use”.

How to Participate

Many local groups and an umbrella group, Movimento ContraMineraçao Beira Serra, have held informational meetings, demonstrations and collected signatures on petitions against lithium mining in the country.

For public participation in lithium mining until May 10, register here. You can voice your opinion, follow the issue and receive updates, and/or share the information. Related documents also are available on the page.

First, you must register if you have not already done so.

1. Click on Registo in the upper right-.hand corner,

2. Click on Individual;

3. Fill in your name, email, password, confirmation of password and, from a dropdown menu, your concelho (municipality);

4. Tick the Agreement with Conditions on the bottom left-hand corner;

5. Click Submeter (Submit) in the bottom right-hand corner;

6. You will receive an email;

7. Choose the issue that ends with Romano;

8. There are three mustard yellow boxes: Participiar (Participate), Seguir (Follow) and Partilhar (Share);

9. Click on the first and choose from a drop-down menu. Click on DISCORDANCIA if you object to the proposed mine and CONCORDANCIA if you support it.

10. You may add text;

11. Click on Submeter;

12. Done.

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