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French government supports initiative for nickel and cobalt refinery to strengthen electric vehicle battery supply chain

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The French government is endorsing a private sector initiative to establish a nickel and cobalt refinery near Bordeaux, aimed at strengthening the country’s electric vehicle battery supply chain and reducing dependence on China.

At a cost of 300 million euros ($323.49 million), the project, spearheaded by Swiss-based KL1, was unveiled during President Emmanuel Macron’s annual “Choose France” investment event. Set to commence operations in 2028, the refinery plans to process 20,000 metric tons of nickel and 1,500 tons of cobalt annually in a port zone along France’s Atlantic coast.

Dubbed Electro Mobility Materials Europe (EMME), the endeavor targets to fulfill 20-30% of France’s nickel and cobalt requirements for electric vehicles by 2030. Despite investments in gigafactories and mineral mines, Europe faces a shortfall in processing capacity for metals essential in battery production, which is predominantly controlled by Chinese firms.

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French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire hailed the project as bridging a crucial gap in the value chain during discussions with journalists over the weekend. The project, currently undergoing public consultation and regulatory approvals, stands to benefit from a green industry tax credit, estimated at about 20% of the total investment.

While France boasts a significant nickel mining industry in New Caledonia, KL1’s leadership, including former Prony Resources CEO Antonin Beurrier, indicates potential connections to the region. However, a finance ministry spokesperson noted that the specific sources for nickel and cobalt procurement have yet to be determined for the proposed refinery.

Meanwhile, negotiations for a rescue plan for New Caledonia’s struggling nickel sector, entailing commitments to supply Europe’s battery industry, have hit an impasse amid political tensions between pro-independence and loyalist factions.

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