Battery Minerals And Energy Storage In The 21st Century

Energy linked to human knowledge

The history of energy creation, generation and use is the history of human evolution, travel, trade and knowledge dissemination. The increase in human knowledge over the past 250 years coupled with the advent of ways to store and use energy locally has led to virtually exponential knowledge growth in the 21st Century.

From the change from charcoal to coal, whale oil to crude oil, the adaption of alternating rather than direct current to power our cities to the current change in energy generation from multiple sources the human race has sought to improve its standard of living and on hand knowledge to advance civilizations and to explore distant lands and planets.

Climate Change and the Energy mix

Currently the proposed energy mix using the Australian Government’s concept of energy security addresses a mix  of ‘non renewable’ (coal, conventional and non-conventional gas, oil, oil shale, nuclear, and  ‘renewable’ energy (wind, hydro, solar, bio fuels, geothermal).  To achieve this mix necessitates adoption of new technologies and ongoing research in methods of energy generation and storage. The touted renewable energy market mix such still  requires the discovery, mining and processing of minerals to create the raw materials for battery manufacture and storage of electricity.  The goal is to create consistent energy to power critical infrastructure and if this is not forthcoming  creates a situation of urban chaos and loss of revenue and in the short term and possible revolution if the situation is not remedied. Currently there is a necessity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to stabilise climate variations globally.  This goal has spawned ‘green’ or ‘renewable’ energy to be added to the energy production mix. This trend to renewable energy  has been championed globally by governments through subsidies to creating an ongoing more liveable urban environments in our growing mega-cities.

The change from total dependence on non-renewable energy sources such as coal and nuclear power has been driven by global debate on climate change and greenhouse gases and the growing pollution and issue of global climate change. There has been a significant cost to the community with rapidly escalating energy prices particularly in areas where there is an almost total reliance on renewable energy such as South Australia.  The important considerations of any major new energy source are:

  1. whether replacement of non-renewable by renewable energy sources creates a net improvement in the current situation.
  2. are the energy inputs to create renewable energy sources more or less than the energy outputs and over what time frame?
  3. what are the ongoing pollution issues caused by the creation of the energy source?
  4. How long does the energy source continue to operate?

This rapid change in person use of energy in the past 20 years has been due to the development of personal electronic devices that have the capacity to locally use energy at a remote point source using a battery (mobile phones, computers, GPS systems etc) rather than the need to be connected to a distributing grid to supply the energy.

Energy Storage and use through Lithium and other minerals

The site on types of minerals processed for use in modern battery technology  is instructive in this space.  Rechargeable batteries having a high energy density with multiple recharging for long-term storage is the key.  Lithium-ion batteries are currently the main technology utilised in batteries used for most hand-held devices such as mobile phones and personal computers due to the high levels of energy stored.  Variants of Lithium-ion batteries are used currently in the rapidly expanding electric vehicle (EV) industry.

The site which outlines the properties of lithium-ion batteries  related to their safety of use and issues of long term storage, discharge and charging identifies combinations of chemistry that are relevant to different industrial applications.

Types of Lithium Ion batteries and their use

Battery Uses
Lithium Cobalt Oxide has the highest energy density of current in lithium batteries. Cobalt has a high energy density, but is an expensive metal that displays thermal instability (unsafe) and fast capacity fade (short life) as a cathode material. Portable electronic devices such as mobile phones. The battery characteristics, combined with a low power density, rank other lithium-ion batteries for EV and stationary storage applications
Lithium Manganese Oxide : in this battery, the use of manganese in place of cobalt allows for higher power density and greater thermal stability when compared to Lithium Cobalt Oxide. This battery was once the choice for EV manufacturers However, with a shorter  lifetime, and lower  energy density they are considered less suitable for EVs than Lithium Nickel Manganese Cobalt Oxide batteries
Lithium Nickel Manganese Cobalt Oxide: Nickel,manganese and cobalt oxide improves cathode lifespan. Combining all three results in good performance across all metrics  (energy density, power density, lifespan, and thermal stability Nickel Manganes Cobalt batteries are applicable across many applications, particularly EV’s
Lithium Nickel Cobalt Aluminium Oxide : These batteries have high power and energy densities, and long shelf life, but degrade more quickly with use than Lithium Nickel Manganese Cobalt Oxide cells. The increased cobalt content improves energy and power density, but also makes cells more expensive and less thermally stable. Competes with Lithium Nickel Manganese Cobalt Oxide for market share in EV power trains.
Lithium Iron Phosphate:Have high thermal stability, long lifespan,  cheap cathode materials and are  obvious choice for use as stationary storage. Due to their  low energy density they are unsuited to EV’s, and manufacturing volumes have not yet reached the point where system costs reflect the low materials costs.
Lithium Titanate nanocrystals here form the anode, and these batteries display unparalleled thermal stability / lifespan. They are expensive when assessed on the basis of energy storage capacity ($/kWh). Their capacity to deliver energy over an extremely short period makes them competitive in high power applications. Low energy density makes them unsuited to EV’s, Project applications include grid frequency regulation and Photovoltaic cells associated with wind farm smoothing

For stationary storage on-grid and off-grid solar storage, Lithium Iron Phosphate and Lithium Nickel Manganese Cobalt Oxide batteries are market leaders. The majority of rest remain with incumbent sealed lead-acid batteries however, and the following parameters should be considered when comparing the two technologies.

Non-rechargeable) lithium batteries possess toxic metallic lithium, however the components of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries are much more stable, but require recycling when recharging is not effective. Unfortunately recycling of lithium ion batteries is mostly non-existent and these are commonly disposed in waste dumps and this is an issue to be solved when these batteries reach the end of their life cycle. The creation of large-format lithium-ion batteries in an expanding Electric Vehicles (EV) market and for stationary point storage (eg Tesla Powerwall) will require expansion of recycling options possibly at the origin location of the megafactories that originally produced the batteries.  As a contrast disposal and recycling of lead-acid batteries are much more advanced due to their long residence in the marketplace.

Lithium ion batteries generate considerable heat when being recharged. Thermal runaway is a term that refers to a positive feedback loop that can cause battery swelling, fire and explosion. This occurs due to the catalytic effect of heat released during battery malfunction accelerates the irregular reactions causing the release of excessive heat.

Lithium-ion cells have a high density of energy and this combined with he reactivity of lithium,  the flammability of the organic solvent electrolyte, thermal runaway can be more dangerous than in lead-acid battery cells. Without protection systems in place, the likelihood also tends to be greater and this has occurred in some personal mobile phones.  An exception to this is the thermally-stable LTO batteries.

Practically, manufacture of lithium-ion batteries include systems and safety measures that isolate battery packs when there are conditions of over/under-voltage or over/under-temperature, Cell balancing systems that equalise the standard operating current  of battery cells connected in series, to avoid over/under-voltage conditions such as:

  • Battery fusing to arrest short-circuit currents
  • Thermal management systems to carry heat away from cells via air or liquid cooling

The widespread use of lithium-ion batteries in EV’s is indicative of the effectiveness of these protection systems. In stationary applications, where temperatures are lower and more stable, the likelihood of thermal runaway is reduced even further.  There has been little or no consideration of how to effectively recycle waster products from Li-ion batteries when these reach the end of their effective life cycle.

Countries supplying minerals for batteries

The supply of material for Lithium -ion batteries comes from the sources of the major components of the batteries – lithium, cobalt, nickel, and graphite and these are distributed unevenly in different jurisdictions.

Lithium

Lithium sources include hard rock mines in particular lithium pegmatites containing spodumene and lithium-rich brines.  The largest global producer of lithium is the Greenbushes Mine in Western Australia that produces lithium from hard rock pegmatite deposits containing spodumene.  The rest of the production is sources from  Li-rich brines in  South America mainly from salt lakes in Argentina and Chile.

Cobalt

Most cobalt is sourced as a by-product of Nickel mining, with the largest producer of cobalt  is the Democratic republic of Congo which is a politically unstable region that uses child labour.

Nickel

The Phillipines is the major producer of global nickel and there has recently been restricting access to these deposits. Australia is also a significant producer mainly at this stage from nickel sulphides, but there is current development opportunities in Nickel laterites. that have higher grades than the nickel sulphide deposits and form surficial deposits with low or zero strip ratios.

Ni-Co Laterites

Increasingly the Extraction of Nickel and Cobalt  is linked to technology studies into extracting this material from Nickel-cobalt (+scandium)  contained in laterite deposits overlying basic igneous intrusions that occur mainly within the tropics.  The technology to extract Nickel and Cobalt in the higher grade Nickel-Cobalt laterite deposits in undergoing a transition to attempt to achive higher recoveries form existing deposits.

 

Nickel

The Phillipines is the major producer of global nickel and there has recently been restricting access to these deposits. Australia is also a significant producer mainly at this stage from nickel sulphides, but there is current development opportunities in Nickel laterites.

The United States geological Survey (USGS) has created a  Global Resource Model of Lateritic Ni-Co deposits.  Analyses of how these laterites respond to heap leach has been studied. The cobalt grade in ores was related to the abundance of Mn-oxide phases, but the percentage of Co extracted during leaching did not correlate strongly with the abundance of any particular mineral phases.  Ores with high Ni grades (1.4–2.1 wt%) contained mainly smectite or chlorite, with low abundances of goethite and a variety of poorly crystalline phases.

Three Ni-Co laterite deposit subtypes are recognized within a classical deposit

  • as (I) clay silicate, (II) Mg hydrous silicate, and (III) Fe oxide.
  • Clay Silicate median grade – 1.27 %Ni, 0.06% Co
  • Mg Hydrous Silicate – 1.44%Ni, 0.06% Co
  • Fe Oxide – 1.14%Ni, 0,04%Co

Styles of Nickel Laterite deposits

 

Type A: – Ni-silicate deposits

Type A Ni-Co laterites

Type B:  Ni-Co laterites (Lateritic Silica Deposits)

itiType B Ni-Co Laterites

Type C : Ni-Co laterites

TYpe C: Ni-Co laterites

 

Based on the USGS modelling there appears to be a close association of clay and oxide mineral species with grades of Ni and Co in laterite deposits .  Use of this knowledge may suggest an exploration and processing method which may use some of the ideas below.

1.From the drilling of Ni-Co laterite and the zoning and update the model for your deposit as required

2.Undertake testing  of clay and oxide species using the SWIR and Thermal IR using the  hylogger available at government geological surveys in Australia and compare these species  against existing analyses of Ni and Co grades.  From the examples of the different Ni-Co laterite ores it appears that specific mixes of clays, oxides and carbonates give consistent grades.  Hylogger with the SWIR and longer thermal TIR bands will give good correlation of mixes of these minerals that can be compared against the analysed grades of the deposit.

3.Look at other data sets if available such as regional airborne and ground geophysics (particularly radiometrics to determine spatial variations in the surface of the orebody .  Radiometric ratio image  (K, K/Th. K/U) may show surficial variations within a zone of the deposit

Graphite

Sources of graphite are mainly hard rock derived from metamorphic rocks, with the main source regions are China and eastern Africa (Mozambiue and Madagasga). Australia has significant sources of graphite in South Australia and in North Queensland, but  these have not been developed

Companies that deliver innovative solutions to generation of electricity in the Australian market include combinations of technologies that link solar and pump storage and photovoltaic cells and those that are linked to providing materials for lithium battery technology

With the growth of the electric vehicle industry and creation of Elon Musk’s Gigafactory concept for manufacture of large quantities of these batteries significant growth of extraction of minerals for these batteries is required.  Currently these is no issue with supply of Lithium, graphite and nickel, but with the cobalt supply from the DRC requires a greater source of cobalt and an evolution in  recycling of toxic materials in these batteries.

For any additional information on your projects and details of experience contact me.