Investors in lithium mining activities stand to reap the gains, with lithium expected by some analysts to be bigger than copper by 2030
In a boon for lithium power, researchers have built a prototype lithium ion battery that could last 30 to 50 per cent longer than any battery on the market, according to a press release from News Group. The news comes at a time when demand for lithium supplies are now forecasting a shortfall as early as the end of 2018.
The limitations in capacity and longevity have held back electric vehicle adoption for many years and only significant progress in addressing these issues has finally brought about the current breakthroughs. Apple have been subject to public embarrassment following revelations that they intentionally slowed down old phones in order to make them keep up with degrading batteries. Upcoming research developments could help to overcome these problems once and for all and lead to even faster proliferation of lithium batteries.
One new source for lithium may be NRG Metals Inc. That junior miner is developing potentially huge lithium brine project in South America’s well known lithium triangle. The lithium trend also has other major lithium miners working full speed in order to bring on greater supplies of the valuable metal including Pilbara Minerals Ltd, Neo Lithium Corporation, and Galaxy Resources.
Virtually all lithium-focused producers are seeing heightened activity and price rises at this point.
LONGER LIFE LITHIUM WOULD BE A HELP
The obvious downside to the new lithium-driven energy boom is battery life. But new advancements to prolong li-ion battery life are really changing the landscape.
One of the notable developments is at the University of Akron, where researchers have built a prototype for a lithium ion battery that could last 30 to 50 per cent longer than any battery on the market.
The lead researcher on the project Dr. Yu Zhu explains that the improvements come from the materials that bind the electrodes together. In conventional batteries where polymer binding material is used, the cells only last for 10 to 20 cycles.
With the new prototype, the battery can cycle for thousands of cycles without depleting in capacity. The technology used in Zhu’s project is a groundbreaking development given that little has changed in li-ion technology for the past three decades.
The developers hope to scale up their prototype, which at the moment is the size of a coin, so that it can be used in smartphones and other bigger applications. The Akron battery could hit the market in as little as two years, but the market will not be short of competitors.
Researchers at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research are working on a li-ion battery that could double current storage capacity and lower the weight of the battery. At the Northwestern University, in collaboration with Argonne National Labs, researchers are hoping for a breakthrough on a rechargeable battery, which may be capable of extending cellphone battery life by a factor of eight.
The efficiency improvements in battery technologies will also see a proliferation of large scale storage facilities such as the ones Tesla has unveiled in Australia and Puerto Rico.
MOVING TO MEET DEMAND: JUNIORS CATCH THE WAVE
This unique climate has created a significant opportunity for all lithium companies. A likely scenario that will become increasingly popular over the next few years is direct investment into junior lithium exploration companies. One of the early movers in that category is NRG Metals – A Canadian company committed to creating lithium resources.
NRG Metals, a start-up focused on the development of lithium brine assets in Argentina, has recently attracted a Chinese battery material producer through closing on a $1.4 million private placement to fund ongoing exploration activities in Argentina and the potential, as an Off-Take producer, for future lithium products extracted.
The company has two projects, with the most significant project being the “Hombre Muerto North Project” or HMNP. HMNP is located in the Salta and Catamarca provinces and comprises a total property package of over 3,000 hectares encompassing six concessions.
The company has reported good surface sample collections, magnesium to lithium ratios, and is located across from Galaxy Resources’ Sal de Vida lithium development project. Most importantly, the project is within 20km of FMC Corporation’s well established Fenix lithium brine project. With an offtake agreement of this kind, it’s possible that NRG Metals will sell lithium before it’s even mined or at least provide a great asset value to the company.
LONGER LIFE LITHIUM NOT ENOUGH TO STEM THE TIDE
While the new battery innovations by the Akron Researchers and others are making huge strides in the quality and longevity of lithium battery technology, they are not near enough to offset the future need for lithium that is driving development.
All these innovations, if they make it to market, are likely to lead to even higher acceptance rates of li-ion batteries.
And with lithium supplies already tight, the expected increase in demand will need massive infrastructure investment from mining concerns and juniors to bring more supply online.
Increases in the price of lithium should continue to make such investments economically viable. In the process, investors in lithium mining activities stand to reap the gains, with lithium expected by some leading analysts to be bigger than copper by 2030.