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Dusting off an old fluorite mine in Germany

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Deutsche Flussspat is working to restart the Käfersteige mine, which has been shut since 1996.

The Käfersteige mine was first operated in 1935 but closed when China exerted its dominance in the supply of fluorite, also known as fluorspar. According to Project Blue data, China accounted for over 60% of global fluorspar supply in the early 2010s. China’s industry has since consolidated through environmental policy and in 2018 accounted for just over 50% of supply as environmental inspections led to the closure of three out of every four mines in the country.

Fluorspar is the main source of fluorine, which is mainly used in steel and aluminium production. The next-largest application is in fluorocarbons produced from hydrofluoric acid (HF), which was one of the earliest mineral applications to feel the effects of legislation on climate change over 40 years ago. Now HF is once again part of the climate change narrative, being an essential feedstock for lithium electrolytes and binders for lithium-ion batteries.

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Li-ion batteries account for only 3% of the total fluorine market at present, but demand is forecast to ramp up with electric vehicle uptake. Fluorine consumption is compounded by its use in processing graphite, another essential ingredient in lithium-ion batteries, and as a result Project Blue forecasts battery demand to account for a staggering 20% by 2030.

This puts fluorine and its source mineral fluorspar firmly in government critical material lists. The potential restart of the Käfersteige mine is part of the near-shoring supply chain movement evolving to address supply chain risks and diversify critical material supply chains away from China. However, China has also already started to boost its own domestic supply again, ramping up to account for 65% of the global market in 2022 as battery production capacity ramps up in the country.

 

Source: Project Blue

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