Until another element is preferred or discovered, lithium will be the foundation for electric and hybrid vehicle batteries for the foreseeable future. It is an expensive part of the battery packs being installed and is keeping sticker prices fairly high. The price of lithium, the lightest metal, has jumped 35 percent in the past 18 months, according to Jonathan Lee, an analyst at Byron Capital Markets in Toronto.

Making lithium-ion batteries less expensive is driving a lot of battery technology companies to look for alternatives, and forecasts that say lithium demand will be doubling in the next eight years based on sales of batteries in electric vehicles, make it more feasible. Simbol Materials, based in Pleasanton, CA, thinks brine offers a solution. The company's proposed Imperial Valley plant near the Mexican border would slash the time and cost needed to extract lithium from salty water, according to CEO Luka Erceg.

Simbol may boost output from an initial 8,000 tons a year to as much as 64,000 tons by the end of the decade, Erceg said, equal to 21 percent of projected global demand. The company is convinced demand will be there. By 2020 there could be annual sales of 3.9 million hybrids, 1.4 million plug-in hybrids and 2.8 million full electric plug-in vehicles, Erceg said.

Simbol is competing for business in a market dominated by four lithium producers, including Princeton, NJ-based Rockwood Holdings. Lithium is usually mined from ore, but brine evaporation could become its lowest-cost source. Simbol takes brine from geothermal power plants and extracts minerals via a reverse osmosis filtration system in a process that takes 90 minutes to 2 hours. Conventional methods using evaporation can take 18 months, Erceg says. If it all pans out, salt water could become the best source for lithium extraction. The supply is abundant and increasing – and no single company or country dominates the oceans.

*UPDATE: There was an error in this post. We got the following from Simbol PR: "While the geothermal brine located underground in California's Imperial Valley is in some ways a salty water, it is quite different from salt water found in the ocean. Extracting lithium from ocean salt water is hypothetically possible, but is an entirely different technology than what Simbol does and people could easily confuse the two."


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 26 Comments
      Spec
      • 2 Years Ago
      Meh. There is plenty of Lithium available. Getting it from sea water is an expensive way of doing it but always is there as a last resort.
      • 2 Years Ago
      64.000 tons is a nonsens for end of the decade. Let's caculate demand: car industry 40 million cars times 25 kWh = 1000 GWh scooter industry 40 million scooters times 3 kw = 120 GWh day/night balancing for photovoltaic: 200 GW worldwide photovoltaic production times 3 kWh storage per kW peak makes 600 GWh So the lithium battery production should be 1720 GWh. 46 g per kWh lithium iron phosphate. This are alone 791,200 tons More than 10 times more
      otiswild
      • 2 Years Ago
      There are other trace minerals and metals dissolved in seawater that could be lucrative to collect, and the 'effluent' of desalinated water could be fairly lucrative all by itself.. Even if it's not, having access to fresh water may make the enterprise a better sell to local governments and communities..
      • 2 Years Ago
      The future of high quality car batteries and ipad/iphone/tablets etc will be with rock mined lithium. They are finding the quality far superior to brine lithium. Canada Lithium and Glen Eagle resources will control the worlds highest quality and most desired lithium very soon.
      • 2 Years Ago
      Great news about lithium. Current feasible are 33 million tons, giving 100 kWh lithium iron phosphate battery for each of 8 billion humans. Seems it's now much more. We need for a good living standard 5 kW photovoltaic and 20 kWh lithium batteries
      • 2 Years Ago
      64.000 tons is a nonsens for end of the decade. Let's caculate demand: car industry 40 million cars times 25 kWh = 1000 GWh scooter industry 40 million scooters times 3 kw = 120 GWh day/night balancing for photovoltaic: 200 GW worldwide photovoltaic production times 3 kWh storage per kW peak makes 600 GWh So the lithium battery production should be 1720 GWh. 46 g per kWh lithium iron phosphate. This are alone 791,200 tons More than 10 times more
        DaveMart
        • 2 Years Ago
        'Simbol may boost output from an initial 8,000 tons a year to as much as 64,000 tons by the end of the decade, Erceg said, equal to 21 percent of projected global demand' = 304,762 tons total That is probably for lithium carbonate though, not lithium It comes to about the original 64,000 tons of pure lithium globally. They specify that this is to cover: 'By 2020 there could be annual sales of 3.9 million hybrids, 1.4 million plug-in hybrids and 2.8 million full electric plug-in vehicles,' which has nothing to do with the figures you have chosen to use.
      Archonic
      • 2 Years Ago
      "Until another element is preferred or discovered..." Is that seriously your opening sentence?
      Dave
      • 2 Years Ago
      BEV fanatics need more lithium "Lithium is used to treat and prevent episodes of mania (frenzied, abnormally excited mood) in people with bipolar disorder (manic-depressive disorder; a disease that causes episodes of depression, episodes of mania, and other abnormal moods). Lithium is in a class of medications called antimanic agents. It works by decreasing abnormal activity in the brain." http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0000531/
        brotherkenny4
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Dave
        Largely a placebo effect. Most psychogoop is made up junk. I know your trying to suggest that BEV fans need therapy, but the reverse is likely more true. The folks who think we can drill for more oil and continue to support that industry are the psychopaths of greed that will keep us from freeing ourselves.
      DaveMart
      • 2 Years Ago
      ' It is an expensive part of the battery packs being installed and is keeping sticker prices fairly high. The price of lithium, the lightest metal, has jumped 35 percent in the past 18 months, according to Jonathan Lee, an analyst at Byron Capital Markets in Toronto.' Absolutely incorrect. The cost of the lithium, or more accurately the lithium carbonate, used in EV car batteries is a small part of total costs. http://www.canadalithium.com/i/pdf/CLQ-Presentation.pdf This shows that around 0.6kgs of lithium carbonate is used per kilowatt hour of batteries. For a Leaf 24kwh battery pack that is about 14.5kgs. The cost of battery grade lithium carbonate is shown as $6,000/ton. That is $6kg. So the lithium carbonate in a Leaf costs of the order of $100. Since the total cost of a 24kwh battery pack is about 100 times that, the costs of the carbonate are not a significant factor in total costs, and neither is whether they go up or down by 35%. 'Lithium is usually mined from ore, but brine evaporation could become its lowest-cost source' Chile and Argentina, both use brine evaporation. The break down of production between hard rock producers and brine is shown in the link I gave. Argentina - 14% -brine Chile -14% - brine Nevada - 3% - brine Australia - 29% - hard rock China - 11% - mixed Other - 2% From the Bloomberg article: 'Each electric vehicle uses about 50 pounds of lithium and hybrids each use about 20 pounds, compared with about 0.1 ounce for a mobile phone and about 1 ounce for an iPad, Ghasemi said. ' Nonsense. The figures are for lithium carbonate, which is around 20% by weight.
        DaveMart
        • 2 Years Ago
        @DaveMart
        S/be: 'The figures are for lithium carbonate, which is about 20% LITHIUM by weight.
        Joeviocoe
        • 2 Years Ago
        @DaveMart
        Ah... numbers. Fact. :) Where has journalism gone? That we need blog commentors to be the source of real information?
        brotherkenny4
        • 2 Years Ago
        @DaveMart
        Yes, absolutely correct. These types of stories surrounding commodity production are typically run to hype up some investments to garner more funding. Now, while, the investment will likely fail the people who manage the project will make a very good salary during operations, which may run 3-5 years before the backers realize they have been duped. Although, it's commonly implied that nothing is for sure, and investors are taking risks. This is really a problem for the US. Our money guys are second generation and lacking in practical knowledge and understanding. They are typically frat guys who have never really worked, and are easily led by people with acting skills.
      krona2k
      • 2 Years Ago
      When are the media going to stop obsessing over lithium? Take a look at cobalt in certain chemistries if you want to see a raw material making a really significant contribution to cost.
        Priyanka Shekhawat
        • 2 Years Ago
        @krona2k
        That's right. Cobalt adds up quite to the cost, which is why LCO is not a candidate for automotive batteries.. and which is why high capacity nickel and manganese based cathode materials are being pursued..
        Joeviocoe
        • 2 Years Ago
        @krona2k
        They obsess because all they know of... is Oil. They cannot fathom a world where the costs of owning or operating our cars is not tied to some limited, scarce global resource, with wild demand and supply fluctuations.
        2 Wheeled Menace
        • 2 Years Ago
        @krona2k
        Yes, cobalt is a big additional cost, but managnese and nickel have been being used more lately ( IE in nickel managnese cobalt ( NMC ) batteries.
      Giza Plateau
      • 2 Years Ago
      More sources would be nice but isn't the price of lithium largely insignificant in batteries?. Despite quadrupling since 2004. I think it's a mindset. Lithium batteries are expensive because people think it is expensive. It sounds mysterious, there is excitement thus you get punished on the price. The same is true for electric cars. The prices we see are not due to battery cost despite the inflated battery costs.
        lne937s
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Giza Plateau
        You are right that the actual lithium is a fraction of the cost of the battery. There are a few kilograms of Lithium in the electrolyte of the battery. The majority of a battery's weight is annodes, cathodes, seperator plates, and casing. At ~$5000 per ton for Lithium Carbonate, the commodity cost for the lithium is a fraction what you are paying for... likely less than $100. http://lithiuminvestingnews.com/5886/lithium-prices-2012-carbonate-hydroxide-chloride/ Just the cost of the engine in your car can not simply be reflected in the price of Aluminum or microprocessors based on the price of sand, the majority of the cost of a Lithium battery is not the commodity cost of the lithium. Creating the chemistry in the battery, manufacturing, testing, safety measures, etc. are major costs. Hype has almost nothing to do with it, especially for manufacturers like Nissan who make their own and would not gouge themselves on price. The good news is that even if Lithium price quadruple, there is still a lot of room for prices to go down.
          JakeY
          • 2 Years Ago
          @lne937s
          @Fgergergrergr Almost all lithium ion batteries use electrolytes made up of lithium salts. Here's an estimate of lithium in batteries by ANL, broken down by where the lithium is located: http://www.transportation.anl.gov/pdfs/B/584.PDF
          DaveMart
          • 2 Years Ago
          @lne937s
          @JakeY: Thanks for the definitive link. They have chosen a really off way of setting the figures out, with usage per mile for various battery chemistries instead of use per kilowatt hour. It is clear from the link though that the use of lithium in the electrolyte is around one tenth as much as in the rest of the battery. For chemistries other than lithium titanate it broadly agrees with the figure I have used, of around 0.6kgs of lithium carbonate/kwh. Lithium titanate uses around twice as much.
          Fgergergrergr
          • 2 Years Ago
          @lne937s
          I think lithium is part of the anode and cathode chemistry not in the electrolyte. You are correct in stating that actual lithium cost is only a small part of the actual cost.
          Fgergergrergr
          • 2 Years Ago
          @lne937s
          Never-mind seems there are some electrolytes using lithium also.
        DaveMart
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Giza Plateau
        Why don't you try reading the thread, and the links given?
      DaveMart
      • 2 Years Ago
      'he supply is abundant and increasing – and no single company or country dominates the oceans.' I missed that particularly ludicrous part of the article prior to the update, as I concentrated on the daft notion presented by implication that an increase of 35% in lithium costs would do much to battery prices. However, way to go, ABG, confounding brine with ocean water.
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