Lithium--A Critical Element in a Renewable Energy Future
Written By: Jean-Sebastien Lavallée, President & CEO of Critical Elements Corp.
On August 23, 2012, advanced materials giant Rockwood Holdings bought Perth-based Talison Lithium in a relatively small $724 million deal - and potentially changed the course of technological development for the next century. Without much fanfare from the average consumer, a single corporation acquired control of 55 per cent of the world’s supply of lithium, a vital element increasingly crucial to electronic and energy innovation.
The world is on the brink of a paradigm shift for energy technology: emerging developments in renewable energy have increasingly addressed efficient storage, rather than greater production. With renewable energy sources (excluding hydroelectric dams) providing only six per cent of the world’s energy requirements in 2011, the vast majority of power generation hasn’t fundamentally changed since the invention of Fulton’s steam engine. From an admittedly over-simplified point of view, our primary means of generating electricity remains heating water into steam to drive a turbine. Far more innovation has developed in batteries and techniques for harnessing energy for future use, an application for which lithium’s physical and chemical properties are indispensable.
Lithium’s increasing ubiquity proves its importance. The world would be very different without light-weight lithium-ion batteries powering laptops and smartphones. Apple recently sold five million iPhone 5s in the device’s debut weekend alone – each containing a lithium-ion battery. Future technology will rely on lithium and a handful of other strategic elements even more heavily, driven largely by a growing focus on renewable energy and the battery capacity required to make it practical, and by new “smart-grid” infrastructures which store excess energy produced overnight for use in higher-demand daytime hours. According to the UNEP Collaborating Centre for Climate & Sustainable Energy Finance, global investments in renewable energy totaled over $257 billion in 2011, with the US contributing $51 billion of that figure. Moreover, China plans to build one million electronic vehicles (EVs) using lithium-ion battery technology by 2015, and five million by 2020, in an effort to lower its carbon emissions and gasoline imports, thereby further increasing lithium needs.
In 2010, the global demand for lithium chemicals reached 102,000 tons. By 2020, global demand for lithium is anticipated to be 320,000 tons- a figure which Dundee Securities estimates to be about 50 per cent of 2009’s entire global supply. With the EV battery industry expected to be worth over $22 billion dollars by some estimates at the end of 2012, it’s safe to say Rockwood Holdings has placed itself in a strategically advantageous position in purchasing Talison Lithium.
Our overwhelming reliance on lithium-based technologies in the coming decades mandates the need for strong supplies of the element, both internationally and domestically. Rockwood’s acquisition of Talison (which, coincidentally, already supplied 80 per cent of China’s lithium imports by itself) has drawn a great deal of attention and reenergized the hard-rock lithium industry. However, while countries like Canada and Chile are saturated with junior lithium miners, there are only 5 mines in the world with strong reserves able to produce 99.9 per cent pure battery-grade lithium. Appropriately named Critical Elements Corporation (TSX-V: CRE) is actively developing one such site for production by 2015. Its Rose Lithium/Tantalum project in Quebec is geologically similar to Talison’s property, and stands to be one of the few dominant sources for global markets and the US in particular.
Through the strong support of the Canadian Government and enthusiastic cooperation from the local First Nations, Critical Elements is eager to spark not only an increase in global lithium supplies, but a surge in human capital through mining operations and battery manufacturing jobs at home in Quebec. Critical Elements is looking forward to supplying the materials needed for driving the upcoming energy revolution, and changing the way the world works.
Carbon dioxide removal revenues worth £2bn a year by 2030
Carbon dioxide removal revenues could reach £2bn a year by 2030 in the UK with costs per megatonne totalling up to £400 million, according to the National Infrastructure Commission.
Engineered greenhouse gas removals will become "a major new infrastructure sector" in the coming decades - although costs are uncertain given removal technologies are in their infancy - and revenues could match that of the UK’s water sector by 2050. The Commission’s analysis suggests engineered removals technologies need to have capacity to remove five to ten megatonnes of carbon dioxide no later than 2030, and between 40 and 100 megatonnes by 2050.
The Commission states technologies fit into two categories: extracting carbon dioxide directly out of the air; and bioenergy with carbon capture technology – processing biomass to recapture carbon dioxide absorbed as the fuel grew. In both cases, the captured CO2 is then stored permanently out of the atmosphere, typically under the seabed.
The report sets out how the engineered removal and storage of carbon dioxide offers the most realistic way to mitigate the final slice of emissions expected to remain by the 2040s from sources that don’t currently have a decarbonisation solution, like aviation and agriculture.
It stresses that the potential of these technologies is “not an excuse to delay necessary action elsewhere” and cannot replace efforts to reduce emissions from sectors like road transport or power, where removals would be a more expensive alternative.
The critical role these technologies will play in meeting climate targets means government must rapidly kick start the sector so that it becomes viable by the 2030s, according to the report, which was commissioned by government in November 2020.
Early movement by the UK to develop the expertise and capacity in greenhouse gas removal technologies could create a comparative advantage, with the prospect of other countries needing to procure the knowledge and skills the UK develops.
The Commission recommends that government should support the development of this new sector in the short term with policies that drive delivery of these technologies and create demand through obligations on polluting industries, which will over time enable a competitive market to develop. Robust independent regulation must also be put in place from the start to help build public and investor confidence.
While the burden of these costs could be shared by different parts of industries required to pay for removals or in part shared with government, the report acknowledges that, over the longer term, the aim should be to have polluting sectors pay for removals they need to reach carbon targets.
Polluting industries are likely to pass a proportion of the costs onto consumers. While those with bigger household expenditures will pay more than those on lower incomes, the report underlines that government will need to identify ways of protecting vulnerable consumers and to decide where in relevant industry supply chains the costs should fall.
Chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, Sir John Armitt, said taking steps to clean our air is something we’re going to have to get used to, just as we already manage our wastewater and household refuse.
"While engineered removals will not be everyone’s favourite device in the toolkit, they are there for the hardest jobs. And in the overall project of mitigating our impact on the planet for the sake of generations to come, we need every tool we can find," he said.
“But to get close to having the sector operating where and when we need it to, the government needs to get ahead of the game now. The adaptive approach to market building we recommend will create the best environment for emerging technologies to develop quickly and show their worth, avoiding the need for government to pick winners. We know from the dramatic fall in the cost of renewables that this approach works and we must apply the lessons learned to this novel, but necessary, technology.”
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and International Energy Agency estimate a global capacity for engineered removals of 2,000 to 16,000 megatonnes of carbon dioxide each year by 2050 will be needed in order to meet global reduction targets.
Yesterday Summit Carbon Solutions received "a strategic investment" from John Deere to advance a major CCUS project (click here). The project will accelerate decarbonisation efforts across the agriculture industry by enabling the production of low carbon ethanol, resulting in the production of more sustainable food, feed, and fuel. Summit Carbon Solutions has partnered with 31 biorefineries across the Midwest United States to capture and permanently sequester their CO2 emissions.
Cory Reed, President, Agriculture & Turf Division of John Deere, said: "Carbon neutral ethanol would have a positive impact on the environment and bolster the long-term sustainability of the agriculture industry. The work Summit Carbon Solutions is doing will be critical in delivering on these goals."
McKinsey highlights a number of CCUS methods which can drive CO2 to net zero:
- Today’s leader: Enhanced oil recovery Among CO2 uses by industry, enhanced oil recovery leads the field. It accounts for around 90 percent of all CO2 usage today
- Cementing in CO2 for the ages New processes could lock up CO2 permanently in concrete, “storing” CO2 in buildings, sidewalks, or anywhere else concrete is used
- Carbon neutral fuel for jets Technically, CO2 could be used to create virtually any type of fuel. Through a chemical reaction, CO2 captured from industry can be combined with hydrogen to create synthetic gasoline, jet fuel, and diesel
- Capturing CO2 from ambient air - anywhere Direct air capture (DAC) could push CO2 emissions into negative territory in a big way
- The biomass-energy cycle: CO2 neutral or even negative Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage relies on nature to remove CO2 from the atmosphere for use elsewhere