A material threat to energy storage?

The Bolivia lithium mining deal highlights the importance of rare earth batteries in energy storage. Most lithium in Bolivia is in the Uyuni salt lake.

The Bolivia lithium mining deal highlights the importance of rare earth batteries in energy storage. Most lithium in Bolivia is in the Uyuni salt lake. Photo credit: Luca Galuzzi

French moves to secure a deal on Bolivian lithium supplies last week again underscored the importance of raw materials in the commercialisation of energy storage.

An agreement on lithium production was one of four letters of intent signed between the Bolivian government and the French Atomic Energy and Alternative Energies Commission (Commissariat à l’énergie atomique et aux énergies alternatives, or CEA).

The four signings, which also include a cooperation agreement on nuclear power, were announced last Wednesday, just as news was emerging of troubles at the French state-owned reactor maker Areva.

The lithium agreement, signed off by Bolivia’s Minister of Mining and Metallurgy, César Navarro, and Florence Lambert of the CEA, is the latest development in years of French efforts to gain rights over Bolivian lithium reserves, the largest in the world.
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More lithium batteries for hybrids

Lithium salt production at the Salar de Atacama, Chile

Lithium salt production at the Salar de Atacama, Chile. Pic courtesy of Rockwood Lithium, one of the largest lithium raw material producers.

Research company Roskill is forecasting the lithium industry will be increasingly reliant on production of lithium-ion batteries to sell its product and that the growth of hybrid electric vehicles means a shift away from portable electronics as a focus for the rechargeable battery market.

Lithium is used in a wide variety of other products, including glass ceramics, greases and polymers. Although demand for these will continue to rise, this will flatten out in a few years, says the report. Overall demand for the element will continue to rise and this will, in part, be met by new projects that will add around 50,000 tonnes to global supply by 2015.

Mining waste a new source of lithium

There’s an interesting snippet of information in a Forbes blog written by Tim Worstall. Among a number of positive stories about recent innovations in lithium batteries, Worstall mentions that he is currently involved in a project that: “has managed to work out an economic method of extracting lithium from one of the local minerals.

“It’s a mineral that absolutely no one at present uses, is here in the tens of millions of tonnes and, indeed, there is certainly a good half a million tonnes of it already sitting in old mine dumps.”

One of the potential stumbling blocks of energy storage is the shortage and exhaustion of rare earth elements, as we’ve noted before in Energy Storage Report. So it’s good to hear that an alternative source of at least one essential mineral has been found… and better still that comes from abandoned waste.