Albemarle expansion in Chile
Albemarle Corp. has obtained an approval from Chile’s Economic Development Agency (CORFO) for an increase in the company’s lithium production quota to 145,000 metric tons of lithium carbonate equivalent (LCE) per annum up to 2043 from its claims on the Salar de Atacama, one of the world’s largest and most competitive sources of lithium.
“We are pleased that, with this new quota, we have the opportunity to add additional capacity in the Atamaca in a highly efficient and sustainable manner,” said John Mitchell, President of Albemarle’s Lithium & Advanced Materials global business unit.
Recycling as a source of battery metal in Japan
Growing demand for battery metals (cobalt, nickel, manganese, lithium) starts to make a bigger mark on recycling industry.
Japan’s JX Nippon Mining & Metals applies a technology to eliminate impurities and separate individual metals from used cells. The company aims to start recycling batteries from personal computers, and later on move into EV batteries in 2019. Its pilot plant in Fukui Prefecture is already recycling 5-10 MT of lithium per month.
Umicore, the Belgian EV battery component maker, already operates a small battery-recycling plant in Antwerp area, capable of processing 7,000 MT of mobile phone and computer batteries per annum.
Umicore, plans to expand by building several large recycling plants for EV batteries after 2020 which will be located in Europe, the U.S. or China, with a total capacity of up to 100,000 tons a year (the amount needed by roughly 300,000 Nissan Motor Leaf electric cars as Nikkei Review reports).
Other Japanse corporate players also try to get a foothold on the Japanese market. Sumitomo Metal Mining started a recycling business to collect copper and nickel from used rechargeable batteries in 2017. Mitsubishi Materials and Taiheiyo Cement are also working on technologies to separate cobalt and nickel from batteries, according to Nikkei Review.
The further development of recycling capacity will depend from the demand growth. Companies seems careful in their capacity expansion despite the optimistic forecasts.
Chile’s government to block Chinese acquisition in fear of monopoly
Chile’s antitrust regulators are considering blocking the sale of a 32% stake in Chilean lithium company SQM to a Chinese lithium giant Tianqi Lithium. On the grounds that it would give an unfair advantage to Chinese.
Chile’s Economic Development Agency (CORFO) which regulates SQM’s lithium leases in the Salar de Atacama, stated in an official complaint filed on Friday last week that the purchase of a stake in SQM by Tianqi Lithium, or any entity associated with it (including national Chinese companies) will “gravely distort market competition.”
SQM and Tianqi are “extremely close competitors … and were one to acquire an interest in the other – even minority – it would have serious anti-competitive impacts on the market,” Eduardo Bitran, former head of Corfo, stated.
Together, Tianqi and SQM, would control around 70% of the global lithium market. The further consolidation of this already oligopolic industry will have potentially a negative impact on new entrants, according to most of market analysts.
Panasonic’s first Chinese EV battery factory opened
Panasonic Corpo. has commenced mass production of prismatic lithium-ion batteries at its first Chinese factory located in Dalian, China, marking its virgin shipment on Monday. The prismatic type is applied within EVs (including hybrids).
Panasonic establishment focuses on high-capacity and high-safety specification targeting North American and Chinese markets in the first place.
Panasonic factories now span key markets for EV batteries: Japan, United States, and China.
Doubled energy storage capacity for lithium-ion batteries
Lithium metal anodes could potentially double the energy storage capacity compared to the carbon-based anodes which are currently used in lithium ion batteries.
Yet uncontrolled growth of dendrites (spiky formations) on lithium metal anodes occurring during charging makes a usage of lithium metal anodes unfeasible. They can grow sharp and large enough to pierce battery separation layers, causing fire or explosion.
Scientists at Arizona State University, lead by Hanqing Jiang, professor in School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, has published a paper in Nature Energy journal that investigates the potential of low cost, flexible silicone materials to improve the performance of lithium metal anodes by reducing stress and thus dendrite formation. Making a one step forward on the way to application of lithium anodes in the future.
Heavy investments in Chile’s lithium-ion battery industry
Chile’s CORFO proclaimed that companies selected in a bidding process to develop technology focused on the domestic lithium market namely Chile’s Molymet and China’s Sichuan Fulin Industrial Group, a joint venture between Samsung SDI Co Ltd and South Korea’s POSCO., have been approved to make investments of around $754 million in country’s lithium industry.
CORFO stated that within two years the companies shall be ready to supply around 58,000 MT of cathode per year, one of the main components in lithium-ion batteries.
CORFO also used this opportunity to inform the wider public that state-run miner Codelco had signed a contract to mine lithium from the Maricunga deposit, without providing more details on the matter.
Portugal drums up investment in its lithium reserves
Portugal seeks to attract more investor into its lithium and battery industries.
Jorge Seguro Sanches, The Secretary of State for Energy , attended the International Mines Ministers Summit, which brings together mandarins and more than 3,800 investors from 130 countries.
“We are a country that has very considerable lithium reserves. (..)We are realizing our potential, because lithium is increasingly in demand, precisely for batteries, for electric mobility, but also for other aspects, such as the glass industry (…)Portugal is one of the world’s leading countries in the field of renewable energy in terms of power production, with lithium being one of the raw materials that can boost the possibility of producing batteries,” Mr. Sanches stated.
He also mentioned an opportunity to participate in approaching lithium mining tender, which will be launched soon, covering areas in Portugal with lithium reserves.
Portugal’s Directorate-General for Energy and Geology (DGEG) revealed that 30 applications were submitted for rights and exploration with lithium as the main focus in 2016, with a proposed overall investment of around €3.8 million.
Historic Namibian Rubicon and Helikon mines
Namibian lithium developer and lithium concentrate producer Desert Lion Energy has entered definitive Transfer Agreements for the acquisition of Exclusive Prospecting License 5555 and 5718, both located adjacent to its existing Exclusive Prospecting Licenses 5439, where the historic Namibian Rubicon and Helikon lithium mines were located according to Mining Review Africa.
Salar de Antofalla expansion
Argentina Lithium & Energy Corporation announced that it is expanding its lithium project portfolio in Argentina’s Lithium Triangle to include over 14,000 hectares on the Salar de Antofalla in Salta Province.
Salar de Antofalla’s geological environment is comparable to other salars in the Puna region where lithium reserves are established.