A surge in global use of lithium, a key component in electric batteries, is leading to the revival of a centuries-long mining tradition in the Czech Republic's Ore Mountains.
Demand for the light metal, which is already used in smartphone batteries, is expected to triple in the next decade as it is used in far greater quantities in electric cars and electric storage systems.
With major car manufacturers increasingly focused on electric cars, Goldman Sachs calls lithium "the new gasoline." Others say it's the oil of the future.
Tesla Motors for one thinks it's worth betting on. Its CEO Elon Musk has plans to build a "gigafactory" to produce lithium-ion batteries somewhere in Europe, on top of the $5 billion plant it's constructing in Nevada.
The potential of lithium's boom is already having a knock-on effect for the small village of Cinovec on the Czech border with Germany, which has a tin and tungsten mining tradition dating back to 1378. Its mines were abandoned in 1991 because they ceased to be economically sustainable following the collapse of communism, but recent explorations have found the biggest deposit of lithium in Europe.
Jaromir Stary, the head of the Department of Mineral Resources at the Czech Geological Survey, said the lithium resources in the Czech Republic could amount to 1.2 to 1.4 million metric tons, mostly in the Cinovec area. Only Serbia has a similar deposit in Europe, estimated at 1 million metric tons.
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