The electric and hybrid vehicles industry continues to grow, and along with it concerns about whether there are enough resources to produce lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries. Establishing a reliable, diversified supply of lithium is a top priority for battery suppliers and vehicle manufacturers. About half of the world’s supply of lithium is produced by the evaporation of highly concentrated lithium brine, a relatively simple but time-consuming method. Traditional hard-rock mining of lithium-bearing pegmatite and spodumene is a costly and time-intensive endeavor, but the lithium concentrate is considerably higher, making these deposits competitive with brine deposits.
Other metals, including aluminum, copper, cobalt, and nickel, are also needed for electric vehicle batteries. Canada is considered the fifth largest producer of nickel and is also rich in copper and aluminum resources. Recently the CTV News website presented an article about new efforts in Canada to support mining of these materials to meet the needs of the EV market. According to the article, the federal and Ontario governments announced they will each contribute $295 million to help Ford Canada produce electric vehicles in Oakville, Ont., while also vowing to help Fiat Chrysler in its plans to invest up to $1.5 billion at its Windsor, Ont., plant. Tesla has also promised big contracts for miners around the world who increase nickel production for batteries.
“We are pretty excited about these recent announcements regarding electrification because there’s absolutely no reason why Canada can’t be a bigger supplier going forward of these critical materials,” said Pierre Gratton, CEO of the Mining Association of Canada, in an interview.
“But we’re going to have to find them and mine them.”
More than $1 trillion of investment will be needed in key energy transition metals — aluminum, cobalt, copper, nickel and lithium — over the next 15 years just to meet the growing demands of decarbonization if global warming is to be kept to less than two degrees by 2050, according to a recent report by consultancy firm Wood Mackenzie.
The demand for cobalt could more than quadruple by 2030, according to a mining.com article. BMW, for example, plans to offer 25 electric vehicles by 2025, growing the company’s demand for cobalt and lithium 10-fold. VW is targeting a 300-model battery-powered lineup by 2030. An article on azom.com describes research suggesting that battery production may be slowed but not limited by supplies of cobalt and lithium. The team studied the diversity of the cobalt and lithium supply options in terms of production facilities, geographical distribution, and other variables and found that with regard to lithium, production from brine can be increased to meet the demand much more quickly, as opposed to bringing in the latest underground mine into production. The report acknowledges the difficulties of cobalt sourced from Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), but says the major potential cause of delays in acquiring new supplies of cobalt comes from the actual extraction infrastructure, and not from its inherent geographic distribution.
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