Connect with us

Electrification

How Clean is the Nickel and Lithium in a Battery?

Published

on

The following content is sponsored by Wood Mackenzie

How Clean is the Nickel and Lithium in a Battery?

The production of lithium (Li) and nickel (Ni), two key raw materials for batteries, can produce vastly different emissions profiles.

This graphic from Wood Mackenzie shows how nickel and lithium mining can significantly impact the environment, depending on the processes used for extraction.

Nickel Emissions Per Extraction Process

Nickel is a crucial metal in modern infrastructure and technology, with major uses in stainless steel and alloys. Nickel’s electrical conductivity also makes it ideal for facilitating current flow within battery cells.

Today, there are two major methods of nickel mining:

  • From laterite deposits, which are predominantly found in tropical regions. This involves open-pit mining, where large amounts of soil and overburden need to be removed to access the nickel-rich ore.

  • From sulphide ores, which involves underground or open-pit mining of ore deposits containing nickel sulphide minerals.

Although nickel laterites make up 70% of the world’s nickel reserves, magmatic sulphide deposits produced 60% of the world’s nickel over the last 60 years.

Compared to laterite extraction, sulphide mining typically emits fewer tonnes of CO2 per tonne of nickel equivalent as it involves less soil disturbance and has a smaller physical footprint:

Ore TypeProcessProductTonnes of CO2 per tonne of Ni equivalent
SulphidesElectric / Flash SmeltingRefined Ni / Matte6
LateriteHigh Pressure Acid Leach (HPAL)Refined Ni / Mixed Sulpide Precipitate / Mixed Hydroxide Precipitate13.7
LateriteBlast Furnace / RKEFNickel Pig Iron / Matte45.1

Nickel extraction from laterites can impose significant environmental impacts, such as deforestation, habitat destruction, and soil erosion.

Additionally, laterite ores often contain high levels of moisture, requiring energy-intensive drying processes to prepare them for further extraction. After extraction, the smelting of laterites requires a significant amount of energy, which is largely sourced from fossil fuels.

Although sulphide mining is cleaner, it poses other environmental challenges. The extraction and processing of sulphide ores can release sulphur compounds and heavy metals into the environment, potentially leading to acid mine drainage and contamination of water sources if not managed properly.

In addition, nickel sulphides are typically more expensive to mine due to their hard rock nature.

Lithium Emissions Per Extraction Process

Lithium is the major ingredient in rechargeable batteries found in phones, hybrid cars, electric bikes, and grid-scale storage systems. 

Today, there are two major methods of lithium extraction:

  • From brine, pumping lithium-rich brine from underground aquifers into evaporation ponds, where solar energy evaporates the water and concentrates the lithium content. The concentrated brine is then further processed to extract lithium carbonate or hydroxide.

  • Hard rock mining, or extracting lithium from mineral ores (primarily spodumene) found in pegmatite deposits. Australia, the world’s leading producer of lithium (46.9%), extracts lithium directly from hard rock.

Brine extraction is typically employed in countries with salt flats, such as Chile, Argentina, and China. It is generally considered a lower-cost method, but it can have environmental impacts such as water usage, potential contamination of local water sources, and alteration of ecosystems.

The process, however, emits fewer tonnes of CO2 per tonne of lithium-carbonate-equivalent (LCE) than mining:

SourceOre TypeProcessTonnes of CO2
per tonne of LCE
MineralSpodumeneMine9
Mineral Petalite, lepidolite and othersMine 8
BrineN/AExtraction/Evaporation3

Mining involves drilling, blasting, and crushing the ore, followed by flotation to separate lithium-bearing minerals from other minerals. This type of extraction can have environmental impacts such as land disturbance, energy consumption, and the generation of waste rock and tailings.

Sustainable Production of Lithium and Nickel

Environmentally responsible practices in the extraction and processing of nickel and lithium are essential to ensure the sustainability of the battery supply chain.

This includes implementing stringent environmental regulations, promoting energy efficiency, reducing water consumption, and exploring cleaner technologies. Continued research and development efforts focused on improving extraction methods and minimizing environmental impacts are crucial.

Sign up to Wood Mackenzie’s Inside Track to learn more about the impact of an accelerated energy transition on mining and metals.

 

×
Subscribe to Visual Capitalist
Click for Comments

Electrification

Will Direct Lithium Extraction Disrupt the $90B Lithium Market?

Visual Capitalist and EnergyX explore how direct lithium extraction could disrupt the $90B lithium industry.

Published

on

Will Direct Lithium Extraction Disrupt the $90B Lithium Market?

Current lithium extraction and refinement methods are outdated, often harmful to the environment, and ultimately inefficient. So much so that by 2030, lithium demand will outstrip supply by a projected 1.42 million metric tons. But there is a solution: Direct lithium extraction (DLE).

For this graphic, we partnered with EnergyX to try to understand how DLE could help meet global lithium demands and change an industry that is critical to the clean energy transition.

The Lithium Problem

Lithium is crucial to many renewable energy technologies because it is this element that allows EV batteries to react. In fact, it’s so important that projections show the lithium industry growing from $22.2B in 2023 to nearly $90B by 2030.

But even with this incredible growth, as you can see from the table, refined lithium production will need to increase 86.5% over and above current projections.

2022 (million metric tons)2030P (million metric tons)
Lithium Carbonate Demand0.461.21
Lithium Hydroxide Demand0.181.54
Lithium Metal Demand00.22
Lithium Mineral Demand0.070.09
Total Demand0.713.06
Total Supply0.751.64

The Solution: Direct Lithium Extraction

DLE is a process that uses a combination of solvent extraction, membranes, or adsorbents to extract and then refine lithium directly from its source. LiTASTM, the proprietary DLE technology developed by EnergyX, can recover an incredible 300% more lithium per ton than existing processes, making it the perfect tool to help meet lithium demands.

Additionally, LiTASTM can refine lithium at the lowest cost per unit volume directly from brine, an essential step in meeting tomorrow’s lithium demand and manufacturing next-generation batteries, while significantly reducing the footprint left by lithium mining.

Hard Rock MiningUnderground ReservoirsDirect Lithium Extraction
Direct CO2 Emissions15,000 kg5,000 kg3.5 kg
Water Use170 m3469 m334-94 m3
Lithium Recovery Rate58%30-40%90%
Land Use464 m23124 m20.14 m2
Process TimeVariable18 months1-2 days

Providing the World with Lithium

DLE promises to disrupt the outdated lithium industry by improving lithium recovery rates and slashing emissions, helping the world meet the energy demands of tomorrow’s electric vehicles.

EnergyX is on a mission to become a worldwide leader in the sustainable energy transition using groundbreaking direct lithium extraction technology. Don’t miss your chance to join companies like GM and invest in EnergyX to transform the future of renewable energy.

Continue Reading

Electrification

Chart: The $400 Billion Lithium Battery Value Chain

In this graphic, we break down where the $400 billion lithium battery industry will generate revenue in 2030.

Published

on

EnergyX_Breaking-Down-the-Battery-Value-Chain

Breaking Down the $400 Billion Battery Value Chain

As the world transitions away from fossil fuels toward a greener future, the lithium battery industry could grow fivefold by 2030. This shift could create over $400 billion in annual revenue opportunities globally.

For this graphic, we partnered with EnergyX to determine how the battery industry could grow by 2030.

Exploring the Battery Value Chain

The lithium battery value chain has many links within it that each generate their own revenue opportunities, these include:

  • Critical Element Production: Involves the mining and refining of materials used in a battery’s construction.
  • Active materials: Creating and developing materials that react electrochemically to allow batteries to charge and discharge.
  • Battery cells: Involves the production of rechargeable elements of a battery.
  • Battery packs: Producing packs containing a series of connected battery cells. Generally, these come in two types: NMC/NMCA, the standard in North America and Europe, and LFP, the standard in China.
  • Recycling: Reusing battery components within new batteries.

But these links aren’t equal, each one is projected to generate different levels of revenue by 2030:

China 🇨🇳Europe 🇪🇺United States 🇺🇸Rest of World 🌍
Total$184B$118B$62B$39B
Critical Element Production$37B$25B$15B$8B
Active Materials$54B$31B$14B$11B
Battery Packs$34B$22B$11B$7B
Battery Cells$53B$37B$20B$11B
Recycling$6B$3B$2B$2B

On the surface, battery cell production may contribute the most revenue to the battery value chain. However, lithium production can generate margins as high as 65%, meaning lithium production has potential to yield large margins.

How Much Lithium Is Available?

Just a few countries hold 81% of the world’s viable lithium. So, supply bottlenecks could slow the growth of the lithium battery industry:

NationViable Lithium Reserves (2023)
Chile 🇨🇱9.3M t
Australia 🇦🇺6.2M t
Argentina 🇦🇷2.7M t
China 🇨🇳2M t
U.S. 🇺🇸1M t
Rest of World 🌍4.9M t

Supplying the World With Batteries

Supplying the world with lithium is critical to the battery value chain and a successful transition from fossil fuels. Players like the U.S. and the EU, with increasingly large and growing lithium needs, will need to maximize local opportunities and work together to meet demand.

EnergyX is on a mission to become a world leader in the global transition to sustainable energy, using cutting-edge direct lithium extraction to help supply the world with lithium.

Continue Reading

Subscribe

Popular