Overview Of Lithium Mine And Downstream Battery Industry And Development Prospects

- Oct 16, 2019-

At present, the lithium ore resources used in industrial production are mainly extracted from igneous rocks composed of large crystals (spodumene) or by containing high concentrations of lithium carbonate (saline). In the past, the global supply of lithium resources was dominated by hard rock mineral sources. Until the early 1980s, South America began large-scale brine lithium mine operations. Today, lithium mines are mainly mined in both forms.

In Australia, due to geological formations, most of the lithium resources are found in hard rock spodumene deposits. As a mining-rich mining country, Australian mining developers have extensive experience in hard rock mining and can use their technology to achieve rapid, competitive mass production.

In terms of lithium mine capacity, according to data released by the US Geological Survey in 2018, there are currently three countries with lithium mine capacity accounting for 86.12% of global capacity, namely Australia, Chile and Argentina, of which five spodumene deposits in Australia. In 2018, Australia's annual production is 51,000 metric tons, accounting for 60.00% of global production. In addition, Chile's production in 2018 is 16,000 metric tons, accounting for 18.82% of global production, and Argentina's production in 2018 is 6,200 metric tons, accounting for 7.29% of global production. In addition to the above countries, other major lithium producing countries include: China, Zimbabwe, Portugal, Brazil, Namibia.

In terms of resource reserves, according to data from 2018, the global reserves of lithium resources are mainly concentrated in Chile, Australia and Argentina, accounting for 90.71% of the world's total reserves, of which Chile's resource reserves are 8,000,000 tons, accounting for 57.14%, Australia Reserves are 2,700,000 tons, accounting for 19.29%, and Argentina reserves are 2,000,000 tons, accounting for 14.29%.

As far as lithium reserves are concerned, although Chile has the advantage of abundant reserves of salt water resources, in actual mining, brine mines have the disadvantages of high capital investment and long development period in mining compared with hard rock. Australia, which is dominated by hard rock spodumite, has obvious advantages in mining. Compared to the way lithium is extracted from brine mines, hard rock is mined by drilling and blasting in ore. The excavated minerals are loaded and transported to a central processing facility for processing.

In the treatment facility, the ore needs to go through the following stages. First, the ore needs to be crushed to reduce the size to less than 6 mm in diameter, and then separated by flotation and magnetic treatment. After separation, the liquid concentrate is subjected to separation. Filter and control the concentrated lithium oxide (Li2O) content to 6% for transport.

The compound which extracts lithium from the brine obtains the soluble salt in the brine by removing the water by evaporation of the sun. With this acquisition method, although the capital investment is relatively high, the subsequent operating costs will be reduced. Although this type of mining method is cheaper than hard rock mining, it takes about 12 to 18 months to extract lithium compounds from brine and reach the extraction level. In addition, the salt water lithium project usually has a period of 8 to 10 years in terms of scale expansion, and the development cycle takes longer than the spodumene project development cycle of 2 to 3 years.

At present, in industrial production, lithium raw materials are mainly present in the form of lithium carbonate (Li2CO3), lithium hydroxide (LiOH) and lithium chloride (LiCl). In terms of the processing steps, the use of a method of extracting lithium from brine, it is possible to directly use the extract for the end market, and for production, it can save time and processing costs in the process. At present, the hard rock mining method adopted in Australia requires further processing of ore to meet industrial production standards. According to the current Australian lithium mine is the export standard, the content of lithium oxide in the ore is only 6%.

Australian ore processing industry overview

Globally, China is currently the world's largest “center” for lithium ore processing. China's production of hydroxides for processing lithium batteries accounts for 89% of global production in 2018. Lithium carbonate, lithium hydroxide and lithium chloride processed by Chinese manufacturers, these chemically stable properties are easy to store and transport, and due to the high lithium content in the finished product, lithium compounds can be used according to the application. A material that is converted into a battery electrode.

In Australia, two of the world's largest lithium mineral processing companies, Tianqi Lithium (hereinafter referred to as Tianqi) and Albemarle in the United States, have been introduced. The two companies are mainly investing in the downstream processing of lithium mines in Kwinana and Kemerton in Western Australia. The details of the project are as follows:

1. Kwinana project

In October 2016, Tianqi started construction of a lithium ore processing plant in Kwinana for a total cost of A$700 million. It is expected to be completed and put into use by the end of 2019. The project has completed the first phase of construction by the end of 2018, and it is expected that after the completion of the second phase of construction, the plant will produce 48,000 tons of high purity lithium hydroxide for electrode production every year.

2. Albemarle (Kemerton) project

Albemarle plans to build a lithium hydroxide processing plant in the Kemerton Industrial Park, which has now received final approval from the regulatory authorities. The Albemarle plant was built to process spodumene from the Talison Greenbushes deposit. It is estimated that by 2025, the annual production of lithium hydroxide will reach 100,000 tons.

Battery Material Industry Overview

In the past five years, the mining industry of battery-related materials has experienced significant growth. Due to the global trend of carbon reduction, automobile manufacturers are undergoing a revolution from internal combustion engines to electric motors to meet future international standards, so battery manufacturers expect future demand. It will continue to grow, and it will also lead to an increasingly tight supply of materials, and manufacturers are looking for opportunities to lock in the supply of minerals.

Lithium and cobalt prices have grown significantly over the past five years, but due to rapid price increases, the industry's capacity has been over-provisioned. In recent years, several new lithium mine developers have joined the development in Western Australia, and five lithium ore processing plants are under construction. It is expected that one of the 2019-2020 will operate. Over-delivery of production capacity has now shown a downward trend in lithium prices since May 2018. As of May 17, 2019, it can meet the battery production, and the price of lithium carbonate with a grade of 99.5% is ¥70,000-¥78,000/ton. The price in March was ¥73,000-¥81,000/ton ($10,874/ton-$12,066/ton), which fell by 4.11% in two months. Overall, the industry has grown at an average annual rate of 32.6% over the past five years. By 2018-2019, total industry revenues reached $1.6 billion, but the decline in lithium mine prices has declined by 3.1%.

According to IBIS research, the supply of cobalt in the world will remain short in the next five years, and the increase in demand for new battery materials such as vanadium will boost the industry's future revenue growth. The average annual revenue growth of the battery materials industry is expected to reach 18.4%. From 2023 to 2014, total industry revenue will reach $3.8 billion.

Battery technology development

For manufacturers, the focus of future battery technology development will be to reduce manufacturing costs. Looking back from 2010-2017, the average cost of lithium batteries for electric vehicles has dropped by nearly 79%. According to Tesla, to reduce the cost of daily use, the cost of using the car battery should be less than $100/kWh to be more competitive than the internal combustion engine. In addition, some manufacturers have begun to develop other low-cost raw materials, such as vanadium, high-purity oxidation and graphene, to replace the higher-priced metal raw material cobalt.

It is expected that in the next five years, the lithium battery will remain the main source of power supply for the electric vehicle industry. Although some new battery technologies are already in the research and development stage, they will not be enough to replace the mainstream lithium battery system in the next five years.

to sum up

The development of the lithium industry is largely determined by the needs of the battery industry. Faced with the increasing popularity of electric vehicles, how automakers reduce their steam manufacturing and daily operating costs are the key considerations for manufacturers. To achieve these goals, manufacturers must achieve technological innovation to reduce costs. This also means that the research and development direction of the manufacturer will reduce or replace the use of expensive raw materials, and the direction of technological innovation will also affect the industry's future revenue expectations.
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