Lithium Today looks at an ambitious and innovative project of tracking and forecasting lithium production from space. Read on how we could use satellite imagery to give you an edge in the market.
Satellite technology experiences a quiet revolution. It is driven by an entry of privately-owned SMEs into the market, which through most of its relatively short history has been dominated by governments with its closely guarded secrets.
At that time satellites have only existed in one dimension. They were massive. Their huge size has been to large extent derived from doubling and tripling devices on board to make their probability to fail when in space very small. From time to time they have failed nevertheless.
At some point engineers working with governments realized that instead of trying to build one fool proof expensive satellite which may still fail, it would make more economic sense to perhaps build a series of small, light, cheap satellites that could work together in constellations, even if it means that some of them will surely quickly become dysfunctional.
This idea to re-think the design approach, sparked the entirely new industry and a cluster of companies around it.
Making space hot again. The small type of satellites has been fondly named as CubeSats.
Most of CubeSats are passive satellites, meaning that they do not emit any signals to sense the earth surface, they rely on waves reflected by our planet. This reliance on the external source of signals, allows them to maintain their small sizing. It has certain drawbacks though, as it does not allow them to see through clouds. Yet the total amount of small satellites right now in space, allows us to obtain imagery of every point on earth every day.
Even the higher revisit frequency is possible if you manually steer the satellite to sense certain parts of the earth. Yet with volatile nature of the world we live in, we compete for such bandwidth with well-funded intelligence agencies and other state backed players.
Satellite imagery can be easily available at a resolution of 3 m per pixel – meaning that every pixel on the image reflects 3 m on the ground. Such quality is good enough to closely follow the accumulation of stocks at the hard rock lithium mines, as well as advancements in excavation for open pit lithium mines (so basically all hard rock lithium mines out there). By taking into consideration high enough revisit frequency or just a coverage of paths of land between points from where lithium ores are shipped from (mines) to processing facilities and eventually to ports where they are often stored out in the open before being loaded on the vessel, we could get a pretty accurate picture of what is happening on the ground in terms of production.
If we look at archival imagery from the last years for specific mine site of which production volume we are aware of for the given year, we can learn to correlate the output levels as visible on imagery with yearly and quarterly production numbers. That method would hopefully allow us to foresee the production of lithium from these sites, before official data is published, with high enough degree of certainty to bring an added value to investors and decision makers.
In case of lithium brine mines, since satellite imagery after careful processing comes in easily distinguishable colours and shades, we shall be able to track the production from lithium ponds based on the change of colours of the ponds (colours are a derivative of activity of microorganisms habitating in the ponds, which react to the salination levels, and range from emerald green to almost orange).
This method can be supported by sensing the water levels, as much as it is possible, and similarly to hard rock mines – stocks and shipment tracking.
According to our data over 90% of 2017 world lithium production in LCE terms have been concentrated on 9 mine sites. That high degree of production concentration allows for relative easiness of satellite based global output tracking and forecasting.
If you are interested in our services of lithium production tracking and forecasting based on satellite imagery, please contact us to learn more on how we could work together.