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23/06/2024
Mining News

The lithium boom: A global race for the white gold

As the electric vehicle market and battery production expand, major economies are striving for lithium autonomy.

As the world transitions to cleaner energy, lithium, the key ingredient in rechargeable batteries for electric vehicles and electronics, is in high demand. Globally, major players are emerging in the lithium market. A volcanic crater on the Nevada-Oregon border in the US could hold the world’s largest lithium deposit. India discovered a vast lithium reserve earlier this year. The European Union depends heavily on China for its lithium and rare earths needs, so it is scrambling to secure its own supplies. A steady lithium supply is crucial for prosperity and economic independence. This fact not only fuels the lithium hunt but also raises its political stakes.

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A European charge

The European Union (EU) is entering the lithium race with a fervour that matches its ambitious decarbonisation goals. With an estimated 18-fold rise in EU lithium demand this decade and predictions of lithium prices tripling during the same period, the EU is working to secure a stable supply of this critical raw material. Finland is poised to kick-start a European lithium rush with the discovery of an estimated nine million tonnes of lithium – the largest find in Europe to date. This deposit could keep the mine operational for thirteen years and power five million electric vehicles. Companies like Finnish Keliber are already planning to start mining by 2024.

The EU’s increasing lithium needs are also being addressed by France’s Imerys, who recently launched the EMILI Project. This lithium exploitation venture aims to produce 34,000 tonnes of lithium hydroxide annually from 2028, making Imerys a leading supplier to the European battery market. The project has received significant support from French government officials who have hailed it as a crucial component of France’s industrial strategy.

Germany’s green approach

Germany is adding to European lithium independence by revolutionising lithium extraction with an eco-friendly method. Researchers at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) have developed a process that extracts lithium from deep waters in geothermal installations in the Upper Rhine Plain. Unlike traditional methods that release harmful substances and disrupt geothermal electricity and heat production, this process filters out lithium ions from thermal water and condenses them until they precipitate as salt, making the process cost-effective and environmentally friendly.

Furthermore, scientists at German chemicals company Evonik have developed a ceramic membrane to simplify lithium recycling. The membrane selectively collects lithium ions from spent batteries, allowing for more efficient recycling. The membrane electrolysis process can produce lithium hydroxide in one step, replacing current chemical precipitation methods. As the global lithium demand continues to rise, efficient recycling methods are crucial. The ceramic membrane offers a promising solution for simplifying lithium recycling and reducing the environmental impact of battery production.

American ambitions and Asian aspirations

From the 1950s until the 1980s, nearly all of the world’s lithium was extracted from a pair of mines in North Carolina. As demand has grown, products that lithium enables proliferated across the United States – digital cameras, laptops, mobile phones. Meanwhile, lithium mining in America has become virtually non-existent.

That appears set to change significantly. A new analysis suggests that a volcanic crater along the Nevada-Oregon border could contain the largest lithium deposit ever found, surpassing the previously considered largest deposit in Bolivia. The estimated 20 to 40 million tonnes of lithium metal within the crater could meet the surging demand for lithium.

Across the Pacific, India has discovered significant lithium reserves in Jammu and Kashmir, amounting to 5.9 million tonnes. This discovery could reduce India’s reliance on imported resources for electric vehicles, create jobs in mining and manufacturing sectors, and make electric vehicles more affordable.

A greener future

As green initiatives accelerate globally, securing lithium supplies is of growing significance. From potential deposits in the US and India to innovative extraction and recycling methods in Europe, nations are making concerted efforts to meet the rising lithium demand. These discoveries and innovations not only promise to bolster economic independence but also put a green foot forward in the fight against climate change. The lithium race is not just about power but also environmental stewardship, painting a promising picture for a sustainable energy future.

 

Source: Innovation Origins

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