By Damon van der Linde – Exclusive to Lithium Investing News
Lithium batteries account for a significant quantity of currently used batteries. Pound-for-pound, lithium batteries are some of the most energetic, rechargeable batteries commercially available.
Lithium is currently a core metal in many batteries, from laptops to electric cars. Lithium-ion batteries have many advantageous features including a high energy density and a slow loss-of-charge rate. Components are also environmentally safe, as there is no free lithium metal. There are, however, some concerns over the safety of lithium batteries which in extreme cases could result in combustion.
“Lithium under the right conditions will explode,” said Kaiser. When the first car explodes, that is going to be a nightmare.”
To reduce these risks, lithium-ion battery packs contain fail-safe circuitry that shuts down the battery when its voltage is outside the safe range. These safety features increase costs compared to the also popular nickel metal hydride batteries.
Major lithium projects are currently underway in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, China and Canada, though the potential for many resources have not yet been realized.
“The ability to scale up lithium production is pretty good right now,” said Kaiser. “Bolivia is the gorilla in the room, because they have huge lithium deposits but want to control all downstream production themselves.”
There are several other minerals that are particularly sought after in the emerging battery market, but because of many factors ranging from supply security to current technological limitations no particular material is yet to dominate the market.
The importance of battery technologies
Batteries are poised as one of the most prominent technologies of the near future, particularly with emerging markets in electric vehicles and renewable energies. Manufacturing these batteries requires an input of minerals, and everyone from extractors to downstream technology producers are vying to invest in battery technologies that will be affordable, available and efficient. Cobalt is emerging as an efficient mineral in battery technologies with a variety of applications, though limited supply sources and listing as a “critical metal” are limiting their widespread adoption, though there have been many improvements in recycling processes.
“Batteries are probably the most important science frontier right now,” said John Kaiser, founder of Kaiser Bottom Fish, speaking at the Critical Metals Investment Symposium in Vancouver, BC. “The electrification of the car industry is another major new trend that has to happen simply because peak oil is a reality and we cannot depend on just oil imported from other parts of the world that are potentially unstable.”
There are several ideal performance qualities for most batteries, depending on the application, but some of the most desirable traits are a fast charge rate – especially for electric vehicles – the amount of charge a battery can hold, and how fast it can discharge energy.
Charge rate is important because it determines how quickly a battery can be charged. Battery density – how much volume and how much weight is required – is again ideal for high-performance applications like electric vehicles, but also extends into large grid-scale electricity storage.