Saxony’s “White Petroleum”

The discovery of substantial lithium reserves in old mines in Saxony promises lucrative investment opportunities for foreign companies. The mineral is a vital component in the ­batteries and fuel cells that will power the e-transportation revolution.

March 2019

Mining in the Erzgebirge, southwest of Dresden, has been a mainstay of the Saxon economy for more than 800 years. Silver mining in particular drove the technological innovations that made Saxony one of Germany’s leading industrial regions. Now the dense network of old tin, silver, and tungsten shafts is taking on a whole new life with the discovery of Europe’s largest deposits of a mineral that is becoming increasingly important in the modern industrial economy: lithium.

As a vital component in batteries and fuel cells, especially for e-transport, lithium has been called “white petroleum.” Significant deposits of the mineral have been found at Zinnwald and Sadisdorf in Saxony, as well as over the Czech border in Cinovec. As the German side alone could account for as much as 10 percent of global lithium resources, the discovery is of great significance to international mining companies and their partners.

© Wikimedia Commons/Johannes Baier

Investing in minerals

Two companies in particular are investing heavily in new mining projects in the region. Lithium Australia (LA) recently completed exploratory drilling at Sadisdorf and has since acquired the entire site, along with another exploration project at nearby Hegels­höhe. LA estimates Sadisdorf could yield 25,000 tons of lithium carbonate a year over the next 10 years and is pushing ahead with plans to be fully operational there by 2021.While earlier this year, Deutsche Lithium and its Canadian partner Bacanora Minerals took over another major mining concession at nearby Falkenhain. “We are talking about 500,000 tons of lithium carbonate, which can only be extracted from this deposit on the German side,” says Deutsche Lithium’s MD Armin Müller. “The battery of an electric car needs about 50 kilograms of this material. This means that we can equip around 10 million vehicles with these deposits.”

In its refined form, lithium is shipped to the main power cell producing countries: the U.S., China, Japan, and South Korea in particular. LA’s CEO Adrian Griffin notes: “We are in the backyard of the most rapidly expanding consumption of lithium outside China, with most European vehicle manufacturers announcing their plans to go electric. The synergies are obvious.”

If the global automotive industry is to swing away from fossil fuels to electric power, vast quantities of lithium and other raw minerals will be needed: it’s an exciting time again for mining in Saxony.