France signed a deal with Mongolia to search for lithium on Thursday and moved a step closer to mine uranium in the Asian country, as Paris steps up its hunt for critical metals needed for its clean energy shift.
The deals are one of the highlights of Mongolian President U.Khurelsukh’s visit to Paris, which comes less than six months after President Emmanuel Macron stopped off in Ulaanbaatar on his way back from a G7 summit in Japan.
French officials said the exploration deal was in a preliminary phase, with France investing 400,000 euros to explore a potentially lithium-rich basin in Mongolia via its BRGM geological service.
Rare earth minerals are essential to many high-tech manufacturing processes, particularly electric vehicles. France has encouraged its carmakers to build a hub for batteries and electric cars in Dunkirk in the north.
French officials said nuclear group Orano had also cleared a key hurdle to develop a uranium mine with Mongolian partners under the Badrakh Energy holding, which could account for 4% of global supplies.
Uranium from Mongolia would be welcome after relations with Niger, from which France derives much of the fuel needed for its fleet of nuclear reactors, were damaged by a coup in July.
Meanwhile, France will support a loan for Mongolia to buy a communication satellite from French company Thales Alenia Space.
France has put on a big show for the Mongolian president, holding an evening concert of traditional Mongolian music at the Palace of Versailles on Wednesday, ahead of a visit to a Gengis Khan exhibition in the western city of Nantes on Friday.
While nearly 80% of Mongolia’s total exports go to China, it is working to expand trade beyond its two big neighbours China and Russia and hopes to become a bridge between Europe and Asia.