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Lithium interest skyrockets, but battery advancements could leave mineral behind

20th January 2020

By: Simone Liedtke

Creamer Media Social Media Editor & Senior Writer


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Lithium interest has skyrocketed on the back of demand created by the battery industry, and while the mineral “shows no signs of slowing down”, analytics and consultant company GlobalData says that battery technology “is changing at an enormous pace” and the lithium market behind may be left behind.

With projects around the world exploring alternatives to lithium, GlobalData mining technology writer Umar Ali questions whether “miners should be going all in for lithium”.

According to Ali, Thailand-based renewable energy company Energy Absolute announced plans in 2018 to build a 50 GWh lithium-ion battery plant, which is expected to be fully completed by July 2020. India, meanwhile, is also boosting its production of lithium batteries by investing $4-billion in four lithium production plants.

“This increased demand has caused mining companies to invest heavily in lithium mining projects around the world, hoping to capitalise on a global shift to renewable technologies,” Ali comments.

He says that since 2017, six lithium mines have opened in Australia, and some of the world’s largest lithium mines are being developed to ensure a constant supply of the metal in the future.

Ali, however, warns that these investments take time and money, and while these mines are being developed battery technology is advancing in ways that may leave the lithium market behind.

“Other battery technologies are being developed that eschew conventional minerals entirely, using more readily-available materials to power batteries,” he notes.

Ali says that one example of this is hydrogen fuel cells, which use an abundant gas and have an energy-to-weight ratio that is ten times greater than their lithium-ion counterparts.

However, in a statement last week, Ali refers to a comment by Bo Normark, industrial strategy executive at European innovation company InnoEnergy, who told GlobalData that “the most exciting development is the high activity and buzz around development of cost/performance in batteries. In the last five years the cost of batteries for electric vehicles has dropped by a factor of three, while power density has increased by the same factor.”

According to Ali, the development will not go as fast in the next five years, but he expects to see a significant improvement in cost and performance with the current technologies, with the new technologies under development promising even higher performance.

“The most talked about technology is solid state batteries, which have the potential to improve the cost performance of lithium batteries far beyond today’s technologies. Taking all possibilities into account, it is not unlikely that before 2030 we will see another improvement in cost and energy density with a factor of three,” he concludes.

Edited by Mariaan Webb
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor Online



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