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The quest for lithium

 

Worldwide, the demand for lithium is growing exponentially. While lithium has many uses in chemistry and medicine, fueling this spurt is the increasing use of this element in batteries.

A lithium-ion battery packs a great deal more energy into less space and with less weight than traditional lead-acid or nickel-metal hybrid batteries. Consequently, the lithium-ion battery has become standard issue in many devices. Lithium-ion batteries power everything from the smartphone you just answered to the laptop or tablet upon whose screen you are reading this article. But the biggest growth in usage of these batteries may come from the automotive world.

Zacks recently recommended some lithium mining stocks. In doing so, this investment service notes predicts that the global market for lithium-ion batteries will double in four years. Moreover, the automotive sector usage will grow at a compound annual rate of 37%. Clearly, what is fueling the thirst for lithium is hybrid and plug-in electric vehicles.

The heavyweights in the industry are also recognizing the growing market for electric vehicles. In February of this year, Bosch, GS Yuasa and Mitsubishi announced formation of a joint venture to improve the performance of lithium-ion batteries in the automotive field. The stated desire is to move plug-in electrics from a specialty item to a true mass-market. Improving the range of the vehicles -- from a typical 40 miles of current models such as the Chevrolet Volt to a “tank full of gas” 250-300 mile capacity -- is key to consumer acceptance.

Tesla, perhaps the acknowledged leader in full-electric automobiles, has recognized that obtaining sufficient batteries to power its vehicles is crucial to meeting its sales goals. Based upon this, Tesla announced that it will open the worldʼs largest battery plant in 2017. And assembling these batteries requires a steady and secure source of lithium.

Currently, the leading producers of lithium are Chile and Argentina. Bolivia has an estimated one-half of the worldʼs known reserves. Recent discoveries in Wyoming in the US have added to the overall worldwide availability. Some areas of Canada also hold deposits about to go into production.

In addition to traditional mining techniques, new technologies are being developed to help alleviate potential future lithium shortages. In California, a new company, Simboli, is trying to extract lithium from the waste of geothermal electric power plants. The technology that the company uses is under wraps, but the possibilities are intriguing. In a world where demand for lithium will grow exponentially as more electric devices, particularly automobiles, will become commonplace, all avenues of supply from traditional to technology driven, should be in high demand.

Sources:

New York Times-- March 16, 2014 http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/17/business/energy-environment/lithium-producer-chases-teslas-bold-battery-plan.html?_r=0

Wikipedia -- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lithium#Production

Green Car Reports -- http://www.greencarreports.com/news/1090405_three-lithium-iongiants-join-to-build-better-electric-car-battery

Zacks -- http://www.zacks.com/stock/news/124774/Beyond-Tesla-2-Lithium-Stocks-to-Buy-Now

 

 

Carl Breau

Carl Breau

CEO | Cemondia Inc.

Shanghai, May 2014

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The quest for lithium

   

 

 
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