There is growing demand for Lithium across the world. This increase in demand has been helped by the number of electric vehicles in use, which has risen from 113,000 in 2012 to 1,209,000 in 2016, and also the increasing use of renewable energy sources, which in 2015 surpassed coal to be the largest source of global electricity capacity.
Lithium-ion batteries were first commercialised in 1991, and since that date they have been used in multiple products such as phones and laptops.
What is lithium?
- Derived from the word ‘lithos’ meaning stone in Greek, Lithium is a rare metal that can store electrical energy
- Light and soft. Can cut it with a kitchen knife and so low density it floats on water
- Is used in the pharmaceutical industry. Lithium salts were the first drugs to be approved by the FDA to treat depression and mania
- Lithium was one of the three elements produced in large quantities in the Big Bang, the others being helium and hydrogen
Where is lithium used?
- Mobile phones & laptops
- Electric vehicles
- Energy storage
- Armour plating (lithium metal alloys)
- Special glasses and glass ceramics (lithium oxide)
- Air conditioning (lithium chloride)
- Medication (lithium carbonate)
The Rise of Electrical Vehicles
|Year||Number of Electric Vehicles (thousands)|
The Rise of Renewables
The average annual growth rate of world renewables supply from 1990 to 2015 has been 1.8% . Solar PV has an average growth rate of 46% and Wind 24%.
Over the next 5 years…
- Renewables expected to cover over 60% of global capacity growth
- 2.5 wind turbines installed every hour
- 30,000 solar panels installed every hour
Why is lithium used?
- Lithium batteries offer double the capacity of non-lithium batteries
- Can store 150 watt-hours of electricity for every kilogram of battery
- Lithium-ion is also low maintenance, and doesn’t require scheduling (discharging and recharging)
What are the main ways they extract lithium?
Brine based process
- Over millions of years, minerals from mountains leach into ground
- Collect together to form salt beds rich with lithium
- Pump water up through the beds and store mineral rich liquid in ponds
- Sun then evaporates the water into a more concentrate solution
- Then leached and processed into a white powder
Through spodumene mining
Top 3 producing Lithium countries (2016)
- Australia: 14,300 MT (up from 14,100 in 2015)
- Chile: 12,000 MT (up from 10,500 in 2015)
- Argentina: 5,700 MT (up from 3,600 in 2015)
The rise of Lithium demand
Per metric ton. Prices inflation adjusted.