There are three proposals for new lithium processing plants in development around Australia. These plants bring their own environmental problems. Roasting spodumene to create a concentrate requires considerable energy and large amounts of sulfuric acid. Finally, the slag residue will also need to be disposed of – a process that must be monitored to prevent contamination.
It’s still early days for Australia’s lithium mining industry, but Maggie Wood, chief executive of the Western Australia Negotiating Council, a not-for-profit organization representing more than 100 environmental groups in Western Australia, says the industry is being watched closely. .
“On the one hand, we know we need to decarbonize as quickly as possible, and essential minerals like lithium and a whole bunch of others are part of that path,” Wood says. “But we also know that mining those mines is environmentally harmful.”
For example, environmentalists have raised concerns that sediment from the Finniss Lithium Project may have polluted a nearby river. BBC Future Planet contacted Finniss Lithium project owners Core Lithium for a response to the claims, but received no response.
Kirsty Howie, co-director of the Northern Territory Environment Centre, the territory’s environmental body, says she is concerned about the environmental impact of several lithium mines between Darwin and the famous Litchfield National Park. the city.
“There are lithium buildings all over it,” says Howie. “You have these vast areas of land that are very pristine by world standards, and they are now [permits for future lithium mining].
“It’s a tropical ecosystem, so you’ve got an increased risk of cyclones, you’ve got a lot of rain – rain is the enemy of mining. That’s when metals flow into waterways and cause havoc.
“We need to stop burning fossil fuels, but we also need a check on mining.”
BBC Future Planet contacted the Minerals Council of Australia, the country’s mining industry representative body, for comment on concerns raised about the effects of lithium mining, but they did not respond publicly.
Some Australian political leaders believe that metals extraction is a priority for decarbonisation. Northern Territory Mines and Industries Minister Nicole Manison was there in early October when the Finniss Lithium project broke ground 80km (50 miles) from Darwin. Speaking to the media, he said: “We have to be realistic about this transition – there are materials that you absolutely need to extract to achieve decarbonisation and combat climate change, and most of those materials are in the Northern Territory.”