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November 2018

Mining and Extraction

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Lithium deposits are most prevalent in South America, particularly in Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina, which together represent over 64% of the world’s reserves. China controls approximately another 26% of the world’s deposits. Currently, production in the lithium market operates under an oligopoly structure, with only a few companies controlling the vast majority of supply. However, new market participants have entered over the last few years as both lithium prices and demand have risen.

Lithium comes from two main sources: brine and hard rock. Brine deposits are found in salt lakes and lithium is extracted through an evaporation process. Brine harvesting is more common and often considered a simpler method of extraction, but generally of lower grade. Hard rock lithium mining requires geological surveys and drilling through rock, which can increase costs, but also often results in higher grades.

Based on production estimates by existing producers, there is expected to be a shortfall in the supply of lithium at least through the rest of this decade. Historically, supply shortfalls in a commodity lead to upward pressure in the underlying resource’s price. Estimates place the world’s lithium reserves at 183 years of remaining supply, but given the time it takes to bring a new project to market, supply and demand forces could push medium-term lithium prices higher.

Lithium Application

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Currently, lithium’s demand is rooted in the following applications (in no particular order):

Lubricant Grease – An estimated 2.38 billion pound market, in which lithium-based greases make up 75%. Lithium-based greases generally have good stability, high temperature characteristics and water-resistance properties.

Glass – Lithium typically sourced from the mineral spodumene reduces the viscosity and thermal expansion of glass and, therefore, leads to increased melting efficiencies and/or larger effective furnace capacities. The end result is a substantial energy savings for the glass manufacturers.

Ceramics – Lithium is used in the ceramics industry to produce glazes. The glazes improve a ceramic piece’s shock absorption and stain resistance, protecting the piece against damage. Lithium carbonate is typically used for this application.

Health Products – Lithium, in small amounts (around 0.170 mg/L), is prescribed to those with bipolar disorders or individuals with depression who don’t respond to anti-depressants.

Batteries – Batteries are possibly the best known lithium application of all. It’s where the future lays for lithium demand. This will be explained further in the next section.

Batteries

Why is lithium used in batteries? Simply, with current technology, lithium provides the best combination of energy density (weight to power ratio) and price.

Batteries have essentially three main components: cathode, anode and electrolyte. When the cathode and anode are connected via a wire, for example, electrons flow from the anode through the wire to the cathode, creating an electrical current.

Currently, there are an estimated 80 different lithium-ion battery chemistries in production, with these varying chemistries all exhibiting different characteristics, such as capacity and voltage. Lithium is typically found in the cathode of the battery, commonly in the form of lithium cobalt oxide, while the electrolyte is commonly in the form of a lithium salt, such as LiPF6, LiBF4 or LiCLO4. The anode material is commonly carbon-based, with graphite being the most popular.

Overall, a lithium ion battery’s output is around 3.6 volts, which is more than twice as much as its alkaline cousin.

What does the current lithium demand by application look like?

Source: Deutsche Bank Markets Research – Lithium 101 – pg.23

Projected demand for 2025 is much different, not only in overall demand tonnage, but the percentages each application encompasses. The future is expected to be bright for batteries in the non-traditional markets; electric cars, e-bikes, and energy storage.

Source: Deutsche Bank Markets Research – Lithium 101 – pg.23

What is Lithium Ion Battery and What is Inside a Lithium-ion Battery Pack?

From a tiny Li-ion battery that powers your smartwatch to the massive Li-ion batteries that power an electric car, one thing remains common: These batteries are always made up of four different components; namely, anode, cathode, electrolyte, and separator. In the case of a Li-ion battery, the metal lithium forms the cathode and it is the chemical reactions of lithium upon contact with the electrolyte that make these batteries characteristic. However, it would be important to note here that lithium in itself is a highly unstable element when used inside a battery’s apparatus. Hence, a combination of lithium and oxygen together, called lithium oxide is used as the cathode for practical purposes. That is because lithium oxide is a much more stable compound as opposed to elemental lithium.

The cathode plays a huge role in determining the characteristic of the battery. Both, the battery’s capacity and voltage are determined by the type of active material coated on the cathode. The active material, in this case, contains lithium ions. The higher the number of the ions, the bigger the capacity; and the higher the difference in potential between cathode and anode, higher the voltage.

A Lithium Ion Battery uses a separator to separate the cathode from the anode because otherwise, not only will there be no current, but the safety of the entire system would be compromised.

Applications of Lithium-Ion Batteries

As established above, Li-ion batteries are available in all shapes and sizes. And that renders them to be the perfect option for power needs irrespective of the size of the system. Along with that, lithium-ion batteries offer power solutions across the spectrum- from energy storage solutions to portable energy solutions. Some of the most common applications of lithium-ion batteries are:

  • Power backups/UPS
  • Mobile, Laptops, and other commonly used consumer electronic goods
  • Electric mobility
  • Energy Storage Systems

As there are varied uses of a Lithium Ion Battery, it comes in different types of packaging. However, there are some general advantages of using a Li-ion battery over other traditional batteries

Advantages of Lithium-Ion Batteries

High Energy Density: One of the biggest advantages of a lithium-ion battery is its high energy density. To put it straight, lithium-ion batteries can last way longer between charges all the while maintaining a high current output. That makes it the perfect battery for most modern needs. As we spend more and more time on our mobile phones, lithium-ion batteries can make sure that we are on the go always and spend minimal time attached to a charging cord.

Low Self Discharge: Not only whilst being used, but lithium-ion batteries have a clear advantage when not being used as well. When kept idle, the rate of self-discharge, a common phenomenon in batteries, is extremely low. In fact, in most cases, it is as good as being negligent.

Low to Minimum Maintenance: Lithium-ion batteries are popular for their low maintenance batteries too. Most other cells like Nickel Cadmium batteries have a huge cost of ownership and maintenance.

Options: One of the biggest advantages of lithium ion batteries is the fact that they come in all shapes and sizes- presenting users with a large number of options to choose from according to their needs.

It must, however, be noted that it is not all hunky dory in the land of lithium. A Lithium Ion Battery comes with its own flaws too.

  • Present Day Lithium Ion Batteries

The present day market for lithium ion batteries is far more complicated than the original small electronic devices for the 3C market mentioned above. Many additional markets have been opened for small devices such as toys, lighting (LCD and fluorescent lights), e-cigarettes and vaporizers, medical devices, and many others. The discovery that lithium ion battery packs using 18650, 26700 and 26650 sizes can be designed to operate at much higher power than originally suspected has opened markets for portable electric tools, garden tools, e-bikes and many other products. While high energy 18650 cells now have as much as 3.4 Ah, the high power cells have sacrificed some capacity to obtain 20A or higher continuous discharge capability in the 18650 cell size. While some cells claim as high as 2.5 Ah capacity, it is difficult to sustain such a high capacity during cycling. Modeling studies by Reimers and Spotnitz and coworkers show clearly the important effect of multiple tabs and tab placement. Other important design variables are the electrode thickness, the carbon content of the positive electrode, the porosities of the electrodes and the type of carbon used in the negative electrode.

In addition, the development of ceramic coatings to the separator or the positive electrode has had a beneficial effect on preventing internal short circuiting during cycling due to adventitious presence of metal particles on the surface of electrodes. These particles are small and generally airborne and frequently result from mechanical slitting of the electrodes. The separator is only of the order of 12 to 25 μm thick so the concept that very small conductive particles can penetrate the separator and cause a short has been acknowledged as a major failure mechanism of lithium ion batteries. Such separator coatings may be on one or both sides of the polyolefin separator and may be as thin as 2 μm thick. Additional advantages of coating the separator are a much reduced shrinkage of the separator at shutdown temperatures (shutdown of current due to separator melting may not be successful if the separator shrinks to the extent that direct contact between anode and cathode is permitted), better cycling in the case that a weak short circuit degrades capacity during cycling without causing a safety incident, and improved electrolyte wetting because of the easily wet inorganic oxide ceramic phase. Even more complex coatings are becoming common as for example, the Sumitomo separator used by Panasonic and Tesla Motors involves a coating with ceramic particles as well as an aromatic polyamide (aramid polymer) to increase the penetration strength of the coating.

While it is difficult to get confirmation from the battery industry, it seems clear that silicon in small amounts is now added to the graphite based negative electrode. The extremely high specific capacity of lithium silicon alloy anodes (over 3000 mAh/g compared to the maximum of 372 mAh/g for graphite) means that even a small amount of silicon incorporated into graphite particles has a marked effect on the specific capacity of the negative electrode. There are many ways already investigated to include a small amount of silicon micro or nano particles onto the surface of graphite particles and each graphite supplier uses their own proprietary process. For example, 400 to 500 mAh/g materials are commonly available now and are no doubt used in the premium lithium ion batteries providing over 3 Ah capacity in 18650 cells. These cells have high cycle life as well as high capacity and are only slightly more expensive than conventional graphite cells.

Present cathode materials in common use include the original LiCoO2 (abbreviated as LCO) and LiMn2O4 (abbreviated as LMO). An excellent and still developing material is LiNixMnyCo1-x-yO2 (generally called NMC and of the same R3-m structure in the original Goodenough patent5 except for some ordering in the transition metal layer). The subscripts are usually called by their atomic ratios as 532, 442 or 811 (except for the initially investigated x = y = 1/3 which is called 333 or111). The most commonly used materials are 111 and 532. In addition, a highly competitive material is LiNi0.80Co0.15Al0.05 (NCA), also a layered R3-m structure. A more recent material developed competitively by several groups is LiFePO4 (LFP) with a 1D tunnel structure. Each of these materials has certain advantages and disadvantages and has been applied to different applications.

Properties of various cathode materials used in commercial lithium ion batteries at the present time and the advantages, disadvantages and applications in full cells. LCO is LiCoO2, LMO is LiMn2O4, NCA is LiNi0.8Co0.15O2, NMC is LiNIxMnyCo1-x-yO2, and LFP is LiFePO4.

A snapshot of the battery industry in early 2015 may be obtained from the work of Pillot, now available on the internet. Pillot has a reputation for providing accurate data on present production as well as a conservative approach to extrapolated values for future production. Reference to Pillot shows that the battery use of LCO is still the largest at 45 kilotons (KT) of material, but definitely leveling off. The use of NMC is next at 35 KT and growing, LMO is next at 18 KT and growing somewhat, LFP at 10 KT seems to be leveling off, and NCA at about 9 KT is growing strongly. The expense and supply concerns have limited the upside potential of LCO and there continue to be safety incidents, especially with lower volume cell producers. Two of the newer applications, electronic cigarettes and so-called hoverboards (2 wheeled self-balancing boards) have had numerous safety incidents reported in which the lithium ion batteries have sparked and flamed causing injuries and property damage. A U. S. Fire Administration document reported in 2014 on at least 25 fires related to lithium ion batteries in electronic cigarettes, and many more have been reported in various media since. CNet reported that as a result of over 60 fires, over 501,000 hoverboards have been recalled by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission. It is certainly in the interest of the battery industry to strongly react to prevent such occurrences as rapidly as possible. Part of the investigation of such incidents should be to identify the components of cells, particularly the cathode, the separator and the electrolyte. The rapid rise of NMC is partly due to the flexibility of the material for both high energy and high power applications. Thus, many power tool batteries that originally had LMO as the cathode material, now have NMC. Also, consumer electronics applications frequently use NMC because of easier manufacturing processes than NCA and the various cell geometries possible with this material (cylindrical, pouch, and rectangular cells). The disadvantage listed is the patent issue. This is a complicated legal issue, but two patent holders, BASF-Argonne National Laboratory and 3M have competing patents in the US related to similar materials with excess lithium and manganese, which have introduced difficulties in batteries sold in the US. NCA is used by a few major producers such as SAFT and Panasonic to make high energy and in some cases, high power cells. These are generally premium cells and have the highest cost as a result. LFP has lower energy density because of its lower voltage and generally lower tap density, but, because of its good power and good thermal stability, has been used in more rugged applications such as e-bikes to good effect. The reader is referred to Reference for structural details and other property measurements of these materials.

Lithium – Hard-Rock and Brine

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Capital is limited in the current mining exploration environment, so investors are increasingly looking for companies that have lower costs of doing business. Over the last four years, we’ve seen large-scale, low-grade projects go out of favour and investor preferences resting with low-CAPEX, high-return projects.

However, it is not only the construction costs and scale of a mine with which companies can save money. It can also be in initial prospecting, exploration, and the development of a project. The key here is for a company to be doing this work in a location setting that is easy to work in from logistical and cost perspectives. If a project is in a remote area in mountainous wilderness that requires setup of a camp and bush planes in and out, the payoff has to be that much higher.

This is where lithium brine deposits come in. Typically, they are located in salars (salt flats) which are flat, arid, and barren areas. This makes the logistics of setting up shop for exploration relatively straightforward, and also removes most topographical challenges of exploration.

Further, there are some other major benefits of lithium brine exploration from a cost perspective that makes it favourable to many hard rock projects. Lithium brine deposits are considered placer deposits and are easier to permit. Brine is also a liquid which means that drilling to find it is more akin to drilling for water, and once it is found the continuity is more straightforward. It’s also typically not located relatively close to surface, which limits the amount of meters drilled.

Once a deposit is discovered, advanced exploration and development can also be at a discount. Drilling wells and testing recovery are more like shallow oil wells or drilling for water. Finally, permitting for construction and production is faster because of the placer classification.

Lithium brine exploration has benefits from the angle of cost that make it less expensive than most comparable hard rock projects.

Lithium is present in a number of different minerals, but for those who deal with its commercial extraction, there are really only a few that are of interest.

Pegmatites

Pegmatites are commonly found throughout the world, but lithium-rich granite pegmatites are much less common, making up less than 1%. Granite pegmatite-ore bodies are the hard-rock source of lithium. The lithium minerals that occur in granite pegmatites are spodumene, apatite, lepidolite, tourmaline and amblygonite.

Spodumene is the most commonly occurring lithium hard-rock mineral, which, once upon a time, made it the number one source of lithium metal in the world. It has since been surpassed by brines, which, for a number of reasons, have become the largest contributor to lithium production.

Pegmatite Hard-Rock Processing

Lithium hard-rock recovery can be broken down into a few key steps: crushing of the ore, concentration by froth floatation, followed by hydrometallurgy and precipitation from an aqueous solution. From here, depending on the application, the producer will typically create either lithium hydroxide or lithium carbonate, which can be sent to factories to be manufactured into its final form.

When evaluating a hard-rock lithium deposit, there are a few key things to look for:
Lithium Grade – Arguably the most important figure in any type of deposit. Typically, the higher the grade of lithium, the more economic the deposit.

By-Products – Not to be confused with ‘harmful’ impurities, by-products can help reduce the cost per ton because they have value. For lithium hard-rock deposits, tantalum, beryllium and caesium are examples of profitable by-products of the refinement process.

Impurity Levels – High concentrations of impurities (non-profitable by-products) can lead to higher refinement costs and could limit their use in end use applications, such as glass and ceramics.

Location – Poor proximity to infrastructure can make a high grade lithium mine a lot less profitable or not even economically feasible.

Brines

Lithium brine deposits are accumulations of saline groundwater that are enriched in dissolved lithium. Lithium concentrations are typically measured in parts per million (ppm), milligrams per litre (mg/L) and weight percentage.

Brine is pumped up from the ground and placed into man-made ponds, where the lithium is concentrated via evaporation. Depending on the climate and weather in the region of the brine deposit, lithium concentration can take a few months to a year. Typically, lithium concentrations range between 1 and 2%. Unlike their hard-rock cousins, these concentrations can be sent to processing plants for end use production.

All lithium brine deposits have a few common characteristics (Bradley, Munk, Jochens, Hynek, Labay. USGS – A Preliminary Deposit Model for Lithium Brines, 4).

  • Arid climates
  • Closed basin containing a playa or salar
  • Tectonically driven subsidence
  • Associated igneous or geothermal activity
  • Suitable lithium source-rocks
  • One or more aquifers
  • Sufficient time to concentrate a brine

Similarly to the list of common characteristics for brine deposits, there are a few things that are particularly important when evaluating a brine deposit:

Evaporation Rate – evaporation is dependent upon the climate in which the deposit is located. Hours of sunlight, humidity, wind levels and temperature all have an effect on the evaporation rate. A low evaporation rate could make the difference between an economic deposit and an uneconomic one.

Lithium Grade – Arguably the most important figure in any type of deposit. Typically, the higher the grade of lithium, the more economic the deposit.

By-Products – Not to be confused with ‘harmful’ impurities, by-products can help reduce the cost per ton because they have value. For lithium deposits, the primary by-product is potassium.

Location – Poor proximity to infrastructure can make a high grade lithium mine a lot less profitable or not even economically feasible.

Impurity Levels – The magnesium to lithium ratio and the sulphate to lithium ratio are very important figures to look at when examining a brine deposit, because separating these impurities from the lithium is one of the largest expenses in the brine refinement process. For both of these ratios, you’re looking for low figures.

Brines are today’s answer to lithium demand as they are more wide spread, typically larger in resource scale, and generally have lower production costs. Countries such as Chile, Argentina and China extract the majority of their lithium production from brine deposits.

Global Production Centres

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1. Australia

Mine production: 18,700 MT

Kicking off our largest lithium producers list is Australia. It produced 18,700 MT of the metal last year, up an impressive 3,300 MT from the year before. The 34-percent increase has been attributed to two new spodumene operations that ramped up production, along with strong sales.

Australia hosts the Greenbushes lithium asset, which is operated by Talison Lithium, a subsidiary jointly owned by Tianqi Lithium (SZSE:002466) and Albemarle (NYSE:ALB). Greenbushes is the longest continuously operating mining area in Western Australia, having been in operation for over 25 years.

Australia also holds over 2.7 million MT of identified lithium reserves, according to the US Geological Survey — that’s just behind China and, of course, Chile. It is worth noting that most of the country’s lithium is exported to China as spodumene.

2. Chile

Mine production: 14,100 MT

Chile was another of the world’s top lithium producers in 2017, although its production decreased from 14,300 MT in 2016 to 14,100 MT last year. The US Geological Survey says the decline was likely the result of weather conditions that impacted the country’s brine production. Unlike Australia, where lithium is extracted from hard-rock mines, Chile’s lithium is found in lithium brine deposits.

The Atacama salt flat in Chile generates roughly half the revenue for SQM (NYSE:SQM), a top lithium producer. SQM finally reached a deal over disputed royalties with Chilean development agency Corfo in January 2018, which will impact its production. In 2018, the Chilean government also gave Albemarle, mentioned above, permission to expand its domestic lithium operations to 145,000 MT until 2043.

3. Argentina

Mine production: 5,500 MT

Lithium producer Argentina decreased its output by 300 MT in 2017, achieving production of 5,500 MT. As with Chile, the US Geological Survey notes that the fall was likely due to weather conditions — Argentina experienced heavy snowfall, which limited production at the country’s new brine operation.

It’s well known that Bolivia, Argentina and Chile make up the “lithium triangle.” Argentina’s Salar del Hombre Muerto district hosts significant lithium brines, while its reserves are sufficient for at least 75 years. At present, lithium mining in the country shows no signs of slowing down. According to Reuters,lithium carbonate production in Argentina will triple by 2019, and has the potential to grow even more if companies are successful in obtaining funding for their projects.

4. China

Mine production: 3,000 MT

China came fourth for lithium production in 2017, the same position it held the year before. The lithium producer saw its output grow to 3,000 MT last year from just 2,300 MT in 2016.

While lithium production in China is comparatively low, it is the largest consumer of lithium due to its electronics manufacturing and EV industries. China accounts for 55 percent of global lithium-ion battery production, according to Fortune. That number is expected to grow in the years to come.

China now gets most of its lithium from Australia, but is looking to expand its capacity in the future. In late 2017, “China’s appetite for lithium [was] on display in [a] Canadian takeover,” says the Financial Postin an article describing a $265-million investment into a Canadian lithium exploration firm.

5. Zimbabwe

Mine production: 1,000 MT

For the fourth year in a row, lithium producer Zimbabwe maintained production of 1,000 MT. The country’s privately owned Bikita Minerals allegedly holds the world’s largest-known deposit of lithium at over 11 million tonnes, but the company has been the subject of a court battle. According to the US Geological Survey, the country’s total reserves stand at 23,000 MT.

Since former President Robert Mugabe’s resignation after 37 years, there has been great speculation as to the country’s potential in the lithium space. Winston Chitando, Zimbabwe’s new mining minister, said he believes the country has “the potential to actually account for 20 percent of global demand when all known lithium resources are being exploited.”

6. Portugal

Mine production: 400 MT

Portugal produces much less lithium than the five countries ahead of it on this list. Last year, it put out 400 MT of the metal, double its output from 2016.

Most of the country’s lithium comes from the Goncalo aplite-pegmatite field. Despite this lithium producer’s comparatively low output, its reserves are greater than Zimbabwe’s, at 60,000 MT. Miners may be onto this because 46 applications were reportedly submitted to the Portuguese government last year to explore and extract lithium in the nation.

7. Brazil

Mine production: 200 MT

The next largest lithium producer is Brazil, whose lithium production has come in at 200 MT three years running. While lithium reserves in Brazil are small, the country does have deposits in the Minas Gerais and Ceara areas. Again, its reserves are more impressive than its output, standing at 48,000 MT, so the country potentially has a long lifespan for lithium output at the current pace.

8. United States

Mine production: unknown

The final listing on our top lithium producers list is the US, which withheld production numbers to avoid disclosing proprietary company data. Its only output last year came from a Nevada-based brine operation, most likely in the Clayton Valley, which hosts Albemarle’s Silver Peak mine.

In recent news, Lithium Americas (TSX:LAC) has announced plans to develop its Thacker Pass lithium project in Nevada. With proven resources of 3.1 million tonnes, the company is claiming it is the largest deposit of lithium in the US. This project is a little different that most in that it’s the first lithium-from-clay operation, and requires new extraction technology.

Lithium Market Fundamentals

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Our lithium demand model based on some reasonable assumptions such as 15% EV penetration by the end of 2025 (China already hit 3.7% in April 2018, and global EV penetration should exceed 2% in 2018), forecasts Lithium Carbonate Equivalent (LCE) from Electric Vehicles (EVs) to reach 1.1mtpa by the end of 2025. By way of a comparison in May last year tripled their forecast for LCE demand to ~1mtpa by 2026.

Roskill lithium demand forecast

The key to understand is that demand is not just from booming electric car sales. There is plenty more demand from other EVs – e-buses, e-trucks, e-ships and e-boats, e-bikes, soon e-planes, the energy storage and electronics sectors.

For now e-buses especially in China have been a huge demand driver for lithium. Soon we will have e-semis and all kinds of electric trucks. Just this last week Daimler announced two new electric trucks for the US market to take on the Tesla semi that was slated for 2019 production. A full size electric semi-truck will need about 10-16 times more batteries (and hence lithium) than an electric car.

Lithium Uses

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Lithium is used in many applications, but the fastest growing industry is probably the lithium battery. While it doesn’t work like a lead-acid battery, which oxidizes the metal for electric discharge, it functions similarly, isn’t as toxic, and is much lighter. Companies have come under fire for the conditions which lithium miners work in South America.

Ceramics and glass

Lithium oxide is widely used as a flux for processing silica, reducing the melting point and viscosity of the material and leading to glazes with improved physical properties including low coefficients of thermal expansion. Worldwide, this is one of the largest use for lithium compounds. Glazes containing lithium oxides are used for ovenware. Lithium carbonate (Li2CO3) is generally used in this application because it converts to the oxide upon heating.

Electrical and electronics

Late in the 20th century, lithium became an important component of battery electrolytes and electrodes, because of its high electrode potential. Because of its low atomic mass, it has a high charge- and power-to-weight ratio. A typical lithium-ion battery can generate approximately 3 volts per cell, compared with 2.1 volts for lead-acid and 1.5 volts for zinc-carbon. Lithium-ion batteries, which are rechargeable and have a high energy density, differ from lithium batteries, which are disposable (primary) batteries with lithium or its compounds as the anode. Other rechargeable batteries that use lithium include the lithium-ion polymer battery, lithium iron phosphate battery, and the nanowire battery.

Lubricating greases

The third most common use of lithium is in greases. Lithium hydroxide is a strong base and, when heated with a fat, produces a soap made of lithium stearate. Lithium soap has the ability to thicken oils, and it is used to manufacture all-purpose, high-temperature lubricating greases.

Metallurgy

Lithium (e.g. as lithium carbonate) is used as an additive to continuous casting mould flux slags where it increases fluidity, a use which accounts for 5% of global lithium use (2011). Lithium compounds are also used as additives (fluxes) to foundry sand for iron casting to reduce veining.

Lithium (as lithium fluoride) is used as an additive to aluminium smelters (Hall–Héroult process), reducing melting temperature and increasing electrical resistance, a use which accounts for 3% of production (2011).

When used as a flux for welding or soldering, metallic lithium promotes the fusing of metals during the process and eliminates the forming of oxides by absorbing impurities. Alloys of the metal with aluminium, cadmium, copper and manganese are used to make high-performance aircraft parts (see also Lithium-aluminium alloys).

Silicon nano-welding

Lithium has been found effective in assisting the perfection of silicon nano-welds in electronic components for electric batteries and other devices.

Air purification

Lithium chloride and lithium bromide are hygroscopic and are used as desiccants for gas streams. Lithium hydroxide and lithium peroxide are the salts most used in confined areas, such as aboard spacecraft and submarines, for carbon dioxide removal and air purification. Lithium hydroxide absorbs carbon dioxide from the air by forming lithium carbonate, and is preferred over other alkaline hydroxides for its low weight.

Lithium peroxide (Li2O2) in presence of moisture not only reacts with carbon dioxide to form lithium carbonate, but also releases oxygen.

Optics

Lithium fluoride, artificially grown as crystal, is clear and transparent and often used in specialist optics for IR, UV and VUV (vacuum UV) applications. It has one of the lowest refractive indexes and the furthest transmission range in the deep UV of most common materials. Finely divided lithium fluoride powder has been used for thermoluminescent radiation dosimetry (TLD): when a sample of such is exposed to radiation, it accumulates crystal defects which, when heated, resolve via a release of bluish light whose intensity is proportional to the absorbed dose, thus allowing this to be quantified. Lithium fluoride is sometimes used in focal lenses of telescopes.

The high non-linearity of lithium niobate also makes it useful in non-linear optics applications. It is used extensively in telecommunication products such as mobile phones and optical modulators, for such components as resonant crystals. Lithium applications are used in more than 60% of mobile phones.

Organic and polymer chemistry

Organolithium compounds are widely used in the production of polymer and fine-chemicals. In the polymer industry, which is the dominant consumer of these reagents, alkyl lithium compounds are catalysts/initiators.

Nuclear

Lithium-6 is valued as a source material for tritium production and as a neutron absorber in nuclear fusion. Natural lithium contains about 7.5% lithium-6 from which large amounts of lithium-6 have been produced by isotope separation for use in nuclear weapons. Lithium-7 gained interest for use in nuclear reactor coolants.

Medicine

Lithium is useful in the treatment of bipolar disorder. Lithium salts may also be helpful for related diagnoses, such as schizoaffective disorder and cyclic major depression. The active part of these salts is the lithium ion Li+. They may increase the risk of developing Ebstein’s cardiac anomaly in infants born to women who take lithium during the first trimester of pregnancy.

The Salta Community

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Santa Rosa of the Pastos Grandes has a population of 136 inhabitants (INDEC, 2001). In 1900 already organized the Argentine government of Los Andes, Santa Rosa de los Pastos Grandes became the capital of the central department. When concluding the existence of the territory of the Andes in 1943 the area of Pastos Grandes was added to the one of San Antonio de los Cobres.

The town has a school with about 70 students, a chapel and sanitary post. From the remotest times of human settlement, the economy was based on small farms or orchards at the bottom of the fertile valleys irrigated by the water of thaw. Potatoes and quinoa are mainly grown. The vega (relatively humid, relatively warm and fairly protected from the fearsome white winds) has also enabled a minimum of extensive cattle ranching (llamas, alpacas), there are wild species of vicuna.

In a framework of gigantic peaks, some 65 families scattered throughout the area the main economic activity is from agricultural work and exchange for other products.

Lithium Batteries

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Global lithium supply serving lithium-ion batteries

Global demand for several types of lithium-ion batteries, and lithium, is expected to grow for many years. EVs alone are forecasted to increase from 1.1 million in 2017 to 30 million in 2030. Lithium-ion battery demand from the EV industry is projected to grow at an annual rate of 20 percent to 30 percent through 2024. On a global scale, one in six cars on the road will be electric by 2025, with annual sales reaching 16.5 million units.

To make the transportation, utility and manufacturing sectors less dependent on fossil fuel combustion, usage of batteries containing lithium will be needed in the foreseeable future. Innovations in battery types is not likely to compete or overtake lithium-ion technology for many years.

An Overview of Battery Types

Batteries are classified by chemistry, and the most common are lithium-, lead-, and nickel-based systems. Figure 1 illustrates the distribution of these chemistries. At a 37 percent revenue share, Li-ion is the battery of choice for portable devices and the electric powertrain. There are no other systems that threaten its dominance today.

Figure 1: Revenue contributions by different battery chemistries
37% Lithium-ion
20% Lead acid, starter battery
15% Alkaline, primary
8%   Lead acid, stationary
6%   Zinc-carbon, primary
5%   Lead acid, deep-cycle
3%   Nickel-metal-hydride
3%   Lithium, primary
2%   Nickel-cadmium
1%   Other

Source: Frost & Sullivan (2009)

Lead acid stands its ground as being a robust and economical power source for bulk use. Even though Li-ion is making inroads into the lead acid market, the demand for lead acid batteries is still growing. The applications are divided into starter batteries for automotive, also known as SLI (20%), stationary batteries for power backup (8%), and deep-cycle batteries for wheeled mobility (5%) such as golf cars, wheelchairs and scissor lifts.

High specific energy and long storage have made alkaline more popular than the old carbon-zinc, which Georges Leclanché invented in 1868. Nickel-metal-hydride (NiMH) continues to hold an important role as it replaces applications previously served by nickel-cadmium (NiCd). However, at a 3 percent market share and declining, NiMH is becoming a minor player.

An emerging battery usage is the electric powertrain for personal transportation. Battery cost, longevity and environmental issues dictate how quickly the automotive sector will adopt this new propulsion system. Fossil fuel is cheap, convenient and readily available; alternative modes face stiff opposition, especially in North America. Government incentives may be needed, but such intervention distorts the true energy cost, shields underlying problems with fossil fuel and serves select lobby groups with short-term solutions.

New markets that further boost battery growth are the electric bicycle and storage systems for renewable energy, from which homeowners, businesses and developing nations are benefiting. Large grid storage batteries collect surplus energy during high activity and bridge the gap when the input is low or when user demand is heavy.

Advancements In Batteries

Batteries are advancing on two fronts, reflecting in increased specific energy for longer runtimes and improved specific power for high-current load requirements. Improving one characteristic of a battery may not automatically strengthen the other and there is often a compromise. Figure 2 illustrates the relationship between specific energy in Wh/kg and specific power in W/kg.

Figure 2: Specific energy and specific power of rechargeable batteries.
Specific energy is the capacity a battery can hold in watt-hours per kilogram (Wh/kg); specific power is the battery’s ability to deliver power in watts per kilogram (W/kg).

The best performing battery in terms of specific energy and specific power is the secondary lithium-metal (Li-metal). An early version was introduced in the 1980s by then Moli Energy, but instability with metallic lithium on the anode prompted a recall in 1991. Solid lithium tends to form metal filaments, or dendrites, that cause short circuits. Further attempts to solve this problem by other companies ended in discontinuing the developments.

The unique qualities of Li-metal are prompting manufacturers to revisit this powerful chemistry. Taming the dendrites and achieving the desired safety standard may be achieved by mixing metallic lithium with tin and silicon. Graphene is also being tried as part of an improved separator. Graphene is a thin layer of pure carbon with a thickness of one atom bonded together in a hexagonal honeycomb. Multi-layers separators that prevent the penetration of dendrite have also been tried. New experimental Li-metal batteries achieve 300Wh/kg and the potential is much higher. This is of special interest for the electric vehicle.

What is Lithium Carbonate?

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Lithium carbonate, is a lithium compound used in a range of industrial, technical and medical applications.
Lithium carbonate may be produced from brines or from hard-rock deposits. That said, a few companies are also looking to produce the material from clay-based lithium deposits.

Though many companies are interested in producing lithium carbonate, not all investors are familiar with what it is. Here are a few key points on lithium carbonate to keep in mind. Each point is elaborated on further in the article below:

  1.  Lithium carbonate is used for much more than just lithium-ion batteries.
  2. Not all lithium carbonate is created equal.
  3. Lithium hydroxide is becoming more popular than lithium carbonate for use in manufacturing lithium-ion batteries.

Lithium carbonate: Batteries and beyond

Batteries have generated the most excitement in the lithium space over the last few years, with interest spurred by Tesla’s plans to develop lithium-ion battery gigafactories. However, there is more to the lithium market than Tesla, and the market for lithium is not all about batteries.

Looking beyond batteries, lithium carbonate is used in ceramics, glass, cement and aluminum processing. Indeed, while the battery market is certainly growing, the US Geological Survey estimates that glass and ceramics still made up roughly 27 percent of global end-use markets in 2017. Lithium carbonate also has an important use in the pharmaceutical industry: it’s been on the World Health Organization’s list of essential medicines as a treatment for bipolar disorder.

Lithium production: Different types of lithium

When it comes to lithium production, not all lithium carbonate is made equal, and end products must meet specific requirements to be used in different applications. For example, battery-grade lithium carbonate can be used to make cathode material for lithium-ion batteries, but most contaminants must be removed in order for the material to be considered battery grade.

Technical-grade lithium carbonate is cheaper than battery-grade material, but such products must have very low concentrations of iron to make the cut for end users. This type of lithium is used in applications for glass and ceramics. It’s also worth noting that lithium is used in the form of ore concentrates in industrial applications rather than as lithium carbonate or hydroxide.

What about lithium hydroxide?

Lithium hydroxide is becoming more popular than lithium carbonate, at least in terms of manufacturing electric vehicle batteries. While lithium hydroxide is more expensive, it can also be used to produce cathode material more efficiently, and is actually necessary for some types of cathodes, such as nickel–cobalt-aluminum oxide (NCA) and nickel-manganese-cobalt oxide (NMC).

Because hydroxide decomposes at a lower temperature, it accelerates the process. It uses less heat, less energy, so you produce more cathode material with less energy, and can still use the same equipment.

Demand for lithium production has risen significantly in recent years due to the growing electric vehicle market, and lithium hydroxide is expected to outpace lithium carbonate in terms of demand growth.

That might not sound like good news for lithium carbonate, but as explained above, the material still has plenty of uses beyond batteries. And since it’s still a precursor to lithium hydroxide in most cases, lithium carbonate could still have a place in the lithium-ion battery supply chain moving forward.