Wherever you look these days there’s talk about batteries. Cheaper batteries, solid state batteries, recycled batteries, it’s breakthrough after breakthrough, it seems. Few of these, however, see the light of commercial production day. But the latest news in this segment of media streams combines recycling and low costs.
Lithium Australia, a company whose stated ambition is to close the cycle from mine to battery recycling and put waste to good use, last week announced a world-first: a lithium-ion battery made entirely from mining waste. It had used a proprietary waste processing technique that, the company said, removed the need for including high-purity lithium hydroxide or lithium carbonate from the battery, using instead tri-lithium phosphate, which substantially reduced the production cost of the battery.
The report is bound to garner attention: the cost of batteries is the main obstacle to mass EV adoption, seems to be the general opinion among experts in the field. Of course, another would be reliability. Lithium Australia has not elaborated on this aspect of its battery, but this may be simply because it’s too early to talk about reliability. The fact that a battery was made from waste is significant enough, though only potentially at this stage. However, the company did report that its battery performed on par with the industry standard that uses lithium carbonate, which is certainly promising.
The world has abundant supply of lithium, which has made some observers question the hype around the metal and its soaring price as EVs moved closer to the mainstream. Lithium is indeed far from a shortage as a flurry of new projects come on stream. In fact, its price is seen peaking this year before it rebounds after 2021 as supply catches up with soaring demand. Why, then, with so much supply, bother with waste? Related: The Biggest Threat To Australia’s LNG Sector
The answer, of course, is because of prices. Market research firm Roskill recently said in a report that the share of lithium hydroxide used in batteries will increase from 25 percent at present to 55 percent by 2027. But lithium hydroxide is costlier than the tri-lithium phosphate that Lithium Australia says it had successfully used in a battery. As the demand for batteries grows—and it will grow in leaps and bounds, surveys suggest—the rush for ever-cheaper batteries will intensify. This is where the significance of the Lithium Australia battery could turn from potential into real.
Meanwhile, there has been news on the battery recycling front as well. Battery recycling is also attracting more attention now as we gradually wake up to the fact all these batteries in everything, not just cars, don’t last forever. But they can be used to make other batteries: a consortium including Ford and GM recently announced an extension to a project that focuses on a battery recycling process that transforms dead lithium-ion batteries into new cathode materials, to be used in car batteries again. According to the consortium, the material contributes to lower costs and higher energy density for the new batteries.
There is a veritable race for better, cheaper, and more reliable batteries. News will continue coming in from this direction, and if recycling efforts intensify to catch up with the other innovation paths, the future would look pretty bright on the battery front.
By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com
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