Two kilometers from the historic center of Cáceres, in the Sierra de la Mosca mountain, in the area known as Valdeflores, the company Extremadura New Energy, SA (a subsidiary of the Australian Infinity Lithium) wants to operate the first underground lithium mine in the world.
It is the second attempt by this company to extract the lithium it contains from this deposit in Cáceres, a key element for batteries and strategic in the energy transition.
The first attempt —which was contemplating building an open-cast mine— was widely rejected by a large part of the city's civil and political society, for which reason they decided to reformulate the project.
At the moment, the company has an exploration permit, an authorization that was granted to the company Castilla Mining, SLU (another subsidiary of Infinity Lithium), which allows it to investigate the possibilities of this deposit in an area of 9,305 hectares of the terms municipalities of Cáceres, Sierra De Fuentes and Torreorgaz.
The next step is to present the exploitation project, the restoration project and the environmental impact study, for which the company has a period of one year.
From Extremadura New Energy they explain that since there is a new law in the region that classifies lithium projects as of regional interest, the procedure of the paperwork would be accelerated, with which they estimate that in between 9 and 12 months they could all be completed.
If they obtain the permits, the company maintains that construction of the plant would begin in the first quarter of 2024.
In the first quarter of 2026 they could already be extracting lithium.
The investment would be 600 million euros in the lithium processing plant and another 200 million euros in the development of the underground mine.
The objective is to request a 30-year concession, of which two would be for construction, 26 for exploitation and the last three for restoration.
The CEO of the company, Ramón Jiménez, defends the underground mine project as an example of sustainable mining.
"In this project, 100% renewable energy is used, both in the material extraction process, using machines powered by hydrogen cells, and by electric motors."
The shallowest point of the mine would be 40 meters and the deepest, 400 meters.
“The objective is to make galleries, extract the material and fill it in again, so that the mountain would not remain hollow, the material is cemented to make it more rigid and allow the mountain to remain stable”, explains Jiménez.
"Every year we anticipate extracting about 20,000 tons of lithium hydroxide, the equivalent of the batteries of 500,000 Tesla model three cars."
However, the new project does not convince some groups, such as the Salvemos la Montaña platform, which was born as a movement against the installation of the open pit mine and gained significant notoriety.
Now, this platform also rejects the underground mine.
The developer company accuses this platform of not wanting to talk to them about the project.
And one of the spokespersons for this civil association, Santiago Márquez, argues that the only thing the company wants to get from them is the "social license and take the picture."
The platform emphasizes that the underground mine project is no different from the previous one.
"The example they give of an underground mine is that of Aguas Teñidas in Huelva, but if the total occupation of that project is analyzed, it is 660,000 square meters in all its facilities, an occupation the same as that of a mining operation," he warns. Marquez.
In addition, this activist emphasizes that the facilities will have to drain water as they go deeper into the mountain, which could cause the aquifers in the area to dry up.
Protest in March 2021 against the Cáceres lithium mine. Jero Morales (EFE)
Márquez also warns that at the moment the documentation presented by the company is very scarce, and he accuses them of hiding a lot of information.
Salvemos la Montaña highlights that the hydrometallurgical plant is the same in both projects: “25,000 tons of acid chemical products, caustic soda and sulfuric acid per year, which will be expelled through the chimneys in the form of water vapor and which will reach the city”.
Most of the parties present in the Cáceres City Council are expectant before the final presentation of the project;
They are also waiting for the decision made by the environmental technicians of the Junta de Extremadura on the essential declaration of environmental impact of the mine.
But against unequivocally it is already positioned United We Can.
Its spokesperson, Consuelo López, explains: “We do not want a mine in the mountains in any way, regardless of whether it is buried.
There is no such mine in the world."
López regrets that some parties have changed their minds in recent months.
The non-attached councilor Francisco Martín Alcántara is also against: “the underground mine is an unfeasible project, it is illegal,
it does not comply with the urban regulations of the general plan that declare mining extraction in that place illegal;
it would also be done a few kilometers from the city and close to hospitals and residential areas.”
On the opposite side are parties like Ciudadanos.
Their spokesperson in Cáceres, Raquel Preciados, assures that they are waiting for the technical reports and once they have them they will make a firm assessment, since they will never support something that is detrimental to Cáceres.
From the PP they also affect that they do not know the project and that once it is made public they will value it.
Its spokesman, Rafael Mateos, assures that meetings are being held and will continue to be held with experts in the field, to have an opinion based on objective and technical data.
In all this case, the role that the Junta de Extremadura will play is vital, which at the moment does not value the mining project either, since the only information they have is the initial document that accompanies the environmental scope request.
With respect to the change from an open-pit exploitation to another underground one, the Board assures that it was an exclusive decision of the promoting company.
The Ministry for Ecological Transition and Sustainability insists that it does not prejudge the result of the processing of an environmental evaluation file for a project that they have not yet received.
Regarding the impact that the mine could have in Cáceres, the Board assures that they are defenders of strategic mining that is compatible with the green economy.
"We are referring to sustainable mining, whose paradigm is the need to produce with the least possible damage to the ecosystem, with the highest energy efficiency and with the maximum recovery of products and waste recovery," say regional government sources.
The same sources also indicate that any major mining project can be a boost for economic revitalization.
In addition, the Board insists, as in other cases, on the need for this project to also involve industrial development in Extremadura:
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