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  • Writer's pictureFIDEP Foundation ER Paper

Lithium, A Versatile Element, Offers Both Benefits And Drawbacks

12 April, 2024                  

BY PRISCILLA SEDINAM AKOTO

FIDEP FOUNDATION 

  

In recent years, the small town of Winneba in Ghana has become the center of attention following a remarkable discovery – lithium deposits. This valuable mineral, essential for modern technology and clean energy initiatives, has the potential to transform not only the local economy but also global markets. It is projected that by 2040, more than half of cars sold globally will be electric vehicles and autonomous vehicles. This will drastically disrupt the transportation landscape globally. It will also have deep implications especially for developing countries where raw materials like lithium and graphite will be sourced to feed the transition. In this regard, a team from FIDEP Foundation developing a consultative process to map out the perspectives of local communities and key stakeholders with regard to the potential effects of lithium mining on local communities, their water, forests, land, livelihoods and community rights in general. In this preliminary visit, the feedback from guided interviews in Woarawobeba community, near Winneba, show a worrying awareness gap in many aspects. It also indicated a community united in resistance to any mining project, which went as far as starting a community-led demonstration in order to preserve their lands, wildlife, biodiversity conservation and cultural diversity for future generation.

 

The discovery of lithium in Ghana represents a major advancement for the country's mining industry. Atlantic Lithium, a mining company, has been working on this resource since 2017. They secured access to the site in 2016 and commenced exploratory work the next year, digging trenches and pits. In 2018, their initial drill hole revealed an impressive intersection of 128 meters at a 1.2% lithium concentration. So far, Atlantic Lithium has drilled over 137,000 meters on the project, identifying a resource of 35 million tons with a 1.22% lithium grade. Recently, the company released its Definitive Feasibility Study (DFS), which demonstrated strong project fundamentals. The mine is expected to operate for 12 years and generate $1.5 billion in revenue, producing an average of 360,000 tons of spodumene concentrate annually, along with a secondary product of lower-grade spodumene.

Nationally, the discovery of lithium in Ghana has substantial potential for local development. With the global demand for lithium rising due to its critical role in battery technology for electric vehicles and renewable energy storage, local communities stand to gain significantly. The development of lithium mining operations in the region could create jobs, stimulate economic growth, and attract both domestic and international investment. Additionally, the establishment of downstream industries, such as battery manufacturing, could further boost the economic prosperity of the surrounding areas.

Globally, the discovery of lithium in Ghana could significantly impact the lithium market. As lithium is essential for rechargeable batteries used in electric vehicles, consumer electronics, and energy storage systems, its demand is expected to grow exponentially in the coming years. Ghana's lithium reserves could help alleviate potential shortages and stabilize prices, while diversifying the sources of lithium production and reducing reliance on a few major producing countries. This newfound resource could play a critical role in shaping the future of the global lithium market and accelerating the transition to cleaner, more sustainable energy.

From a community perspective, while the discovery of lithium in Ghana brings economic and global opportunities, it also raises environmental concerns. Mining activities can damage the local ecosystem, causing deforestation, soil erosion, and water pollution. Therefore, it is crucial for mining companies and regulatory bodies to prioritize sustainable practices to mitigate these risks. Implementing measures such as reforestation, water management systems, and waste management strategies can help minimize the environmental impact, ensuring the long-term health of the region's ecosystem.

According to a recent report by Friends of the Earth International, lithium extraction severely impacts vegetation, contaminates soils, and pollutes water resources. The clearing of large tracts of vegetation exacerbates climate change. Mining activities also affect people's livelihoods, leading to unsustainable practices such as excessive use of fertilizers and chemicals for fishing. The extraction of precious minerals like gold, diamonds, and lithium has the potential to create conflicts, threatening the sustainable harvest of terrestrial and biological resources, as witnessed in the civil wars of Sierra Leone and Liberia. A similar report published in 2021 by the nonprofit BePe (Bienaventuradors de Pobres) suggests that insufficient research has been conducted on the potential environmental damage of lithium mining, recommending that all related activities be halted until studies can reliably determine the extent of the damage.

 

In view of the potential socio-economic and environmental impacts of lithium mining in Ghana, it is essential to prioritize the well-being of the community that are likely to be affected directly. Measures should be put in place to address concerns such as land rights, health and safety regulations, and community engagement. Ensuring transparency, fostering dialogue between stakeholders, and implementing social responsibility initiatives can help build trust and collaboration between the mining companies and the local community. 

 

In conclusion, while lithium revolutionizes modern technology with its efficient energy storage capabilities, its extraction and disposal processes demand careful consideration to mitigate environmental impacts. By prioritizing the needs and concerns of community members, the lithium mining operations in Ghana can contribute to sustainable development and prosperity for all.


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