The Irish Times view on lithium prospecting in Ireland: far from long-odds speculation

The possibility of a substantial find of the raw material in Ireland illustrates the hard choices ahead in accelerating a clean energy revolution while balancing environmental risks

Two prospecting companies are evaluating levels of lithium deposits over a vast area of Wicklow extending into Carlow and Wexford, though this is not long-odds speculation. It was always known that hardrock in this area contains the metal, but the context in recent years is much changed. Extraction methods have improved, while demand for lithium is accelerating and prices are at record levels.

Lithium is widely used in consumer electronics and the world is dependent on supplies from China. Extraction and processing will be key to delivering the clean technology needed as the world pursues net-zero emissions. Use of lithium ion batteries is essential as a power back-up in the renewables sector.

Minister for Environment and Climate Eamon Ryan has said that there are no current mining licences or leases granted for extracting lithium or applications to do so with the Department of Energy. The Government, however, is in a difficult position, particularly the Green Party, as the most significant deposits – as of now – are located within one of Ireland’s most precious landscapes: a haven for biodiversity and a tourism amenity.

Yet the energy crisis, the role of renewables in decarbonising economies, and the lack of energy security must be considered in evaluating any extraction application. Ryan has accepted “careful exploitation of our natural resources rather than the offshoring to countries with weaker environmental regimes is part of being a global citizen.”

READ MORE

Government policy supports the EU’s critical raw materials Act to enhance their extraction, processing and recycling. Ireland’s stated position is that it must ensure socially and environmentally responsible practices to achieve EU green deal objectives, supporting European competitiveness, while ensuring consistency with the State’s policy on mineral exploration and mining.

The possibility of a substantial lithium find in Ireland illustrates the hard choices ahead in accelerating a clean energy revolution while balancing other environmental risks, where local concerns often wrestle with the greater good.