It is part of a plan to make Portugal Europe’s leading supplier of metal for electric car batteries, helping to meet an expected increase in global lithium demand.
Portugal is already Europe’s largest lithium producer, but its miners sell almost exclusively to the ceramics industry and are only now gearing up to produce premium metal for batteries.
The environment ministry said the environmental assessment conducted by the energy and geology agency analyzed eight lithium-rich areas in central and northern Portugal, concluding “there were conditions to advance in six of them”.
“Within the next 60 days, the bidding process to award lithium prospecting and research will advance,” it said in a statement. “After the auction and prospecting, to be carried out within a maximum period of five years, lithium exploration can begin.”
He added that in the six areas to be auctioned, mining would not be permitted in areas with high urban and population density.
Licenses to search for the metal in other regions have already been granted. The environmental regulator has given preliminary approval to an environmental study by London-based firm Savannah Resources to exploit the Barroso region, a world heritage site for agriculture.
Lithium projects in Portugal are facing strong opposition from environmentalists and local communities, who are demanding stricter regulation and more transparency.
They expressed concern about the irreversible damage to the environment such as soil pollution and the destruction of the natural habitat of various endangered species.
(Reporting by Sergio Goncalves; Editing by Catarina Demony, Kirsten Donovan)