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.
Drax advances biomass strategy with Pinnacle acquisition
The Group’s enlarged supply chain will have access to 4.9 million tonnes of operational capacity from 2022. Of this total, 2.9 million tonnes are available for Drax’s self-supply requirements in 2022, which will rise to 3.4 million tonnes in 2027.
The £424 million acquisition of the Canadian biomass pellet producer supports Drax' ambition to be carbon negative by 2030, using bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) and will make a "significant contribution" in the UK cutting emissions by 78% by 2035 (click here).
This summer Drax will undertake maintenance on its CfD(2) biomass unit, including a high-pressure turbine upgrade to reduce maintenance costs and improve thermal efficiency, contributing to lower generation costs for Drax Power Station.
In March, Drax secured Capacity Market agreements for its hydro and pumped storage assets worth around £10 million for delivery October 2024-September 2025.
The limitations on BECCS are not technology but supply, with every gigatonne of CO2 stored per year requiring approximately 30-40 million hectares of BECCS feedstock, according to the Global CCS Institute. Nonetheless, BECCS should be seen as an essential complement to the required, wide-scale deployment of CCS to meet climate change targets, it concludes.