Car manufacturers across the industry all want to be part of the race towards electrification. Many OEMs in the business have said that they will be fully electric by as soon as 2025 or even 2030, however, the supply chain is proving to be a huge problem for the industry reaching those goals.
Internal combustion engines will not disappear overnight, and manufacturers will continue to offer customers the choice between a petrol/diesel powered car or a battery powered vehicle until the full transition to electric occurs.
So, what is preventing this inevitable shift? Lithium is the most popular material used in EV batteries and as the demand for electric vehicles increases, so will the demand for raw materials. Lithium is the lightest metal on the periodic table, and it has an extremely high energy efficiency which makes it the perfect material to use in electric vehicle batteries.
Boston Consulting Group has recently reported that 90% of the grid-scale energy storage batteries installed to date have been lithium-ion, further predicting that this will remain the most popular energy storage technology for the next decade.
As of today, lithium is the bottle neck in the electric vehicle equation. As demand increases, the price of lithium has gone up from $10,000 to $80,000 a ton making it incredibly expensive for OEMs trying to transition their cars.
Of course, there are alternative solutions for vehicles such as hydrogen powered fuel cells and even batteries being made from the lignin in trees, but none of these will offer the combination of cost, weight and energy density of lithium batteries. Furthermore, the production of these methods has never reached the massive scales that would be required.
Although improving and even solving the lithium supply chain issue may seem impossible, technology has already been created that addresses many of the key issues that lithium demand faces. Direct Lithium Extraction is expected to lower operating costs while also improving aspects of sustainability.
EnergyX have been a key player in new extraction technologies with their Lithium-Ion Transport and Separation mechanism. In a field test at live lithium extract sites, the company said that this new mechanism has recovered over 90% of the lithium in the system in a matter of days using no chemicals and very little water. This new technology is capable of being a game changer.
This is a significant step for the lithium extraction sector. Usually, the sector would see its brine operations yield 30% of lithium within its evaporation ponds while using chemicals and water during its operational progress.
Other corners of the globe such as Cornish Lithium are using DLE technologies to extract lithium from Cornish waters where there is an abundance of the raw material. If Europe are able to locally source lithium, there will be no need to outsource from lithium rich countries such South America and China, which would significant reduce carbon emissions and demand upon those areas.
Direct Lithium Extraction such as LiTAS is expected to refine the sector significantly. As the demand increases for raw materials so does the cost, risking a structural deficit for the industry in the future; but with DLE capabilities, there is hope to reduce the cost of operations and also, reduce carbon emissions from these processes.
Although this may not solve the crisis completely, this is a promising step forward into the global shift to a zero-carbon future.