The 2022 geological sampling campaign is delivering the first positive results
Analysis of geological samples taken at the Beauvoir quarry was completed in early September 2022, with promising results regarding the quantities of lithium present underground. Further studies are planned to refine these estimates.
In 2005, Imerys took over the kaolin extraction business from the Beauvoir quarry (Allier). This clayey mineral is mainly used to manufacture tableware and tiles. But the history of the site is much older, as Patrick Fullenwarth, geologist at Imerys, likes to remind us: “The Massif Central has very ancient geological formations. These are granites dating back 310 million years, in which we were able to identify the presence of various elements including lithium, discovered on the Beauvoir site in the 1960s.”
At the time, this discovery did not lead to further exploration: The demand for lithium did not justify it. The picture is quite different today, with demand for electric vehicles rising to 70% of European sales by 2030. At present, Europe is 100% dependent on imports of lithium, which is needed to produce batteries for new mobility. Setting up local lithium extraction systems is therefore crucial for our energy and environmental transition.
Samples analyzed to model the granite massif
Aware of this issue since 2017, Imerys has already begun sampling campaigns on the Beauvoir site, which have confirmed the presence of lithium in proportions large enough to be part of an industrial project. These explorations are the subject of a prior application for an Exclusive Research Permit (PER) to the state, in the form of a technical file particularly detailing the geographical scope of the research and its environmental impact.
The Exclusive Research Permit (PER) Imerys obtained in 2015 was renewed in 2021. “Between December 2021 and May 2022, we took 20 samples at an average depth of 250 m,” explains Patrick Fullenwarth. Specifically, we used a cable drill to extract cylindrical granite samples. Called ‘core samples’, these samples are one meter long and six to eight centimeters in diameter.”
All this information is compiled to perform 3D modeling of the massif and estimate all available lithium resources, which vary according to location.
“When it cooled 310 million years ago, the magma did not crystallize at the same rate in different zones,” says Fullenwarth. “They may include heterogeneous lithium concentrations.”
In the end, these geostatistical data make it possible to assess the volume of ore present on the site and the tonnage likely to be mined at a given location.
Confirmed attractiveness of the Beauvoir site
This ongoing geological survey campaign has already confirmed the presence of lithium in attractive quantities and quality at the Beauvoir site. Concurrent with the study on industrialization of the project, the geological teams are continuing this campaign until the end of the year in order to refine modeling of the granite massif.
According to the latest estimates, completion of this industrial project would deliver 34,000 tonnes of lithium hydroxide per year. This quantity would allow 700,000 batteries of electric vehicles to be equipped at full capacity, i.e. more than a third of France’s production ambitions for the new responsible mobility by 2030.