Almost 400 new mines needed to meet future EV battery demand, data finds
For the world to meet demand for electric vehicle and energy storage batteries in the next decade, it will need to have built almost 400 new mines by 2035, according to London-based price reporting agency, Benchmark Minerals.
Lithium-ion batteries – the so-called ‘white gold’ that powers electric vehicles and energy storage – requires graphite, lithium, nickel and cobalt to be mined.
According to Benchmark the price of lithium soared 280% between January 2021 and January 2022 – and establishing a domestic supply of lithium has become the modern-day version of oil security.
The Benchmark forecast however predicts that with increased demand for lithium-ion batteries, at least 384 new mines for these battery components are needed, with that number only reducing to 336 if recycled raw materials support the cause.
The need for lithium-ion batteries is expected to grow six times by 2032, according to Benchmark’s research.
However, supplies of lithium, graphite, nickel and cobalt are in limited, with China owning the majority of the global lithium-ion battery supply chain.
In 2021, China produced almost 80% of lithium-ion batteries, whilst also controlling just over 60% of global lithium refining for the batteries and processing 100% of natural graphite.
This is a cause for concern for geopolitical reasons, as well as alleged ethical reasons that suggest the production in China violates labour and human rights.
As it stands, Australia is the most dominant supplier of lithium, just ahead of Chile, China, and Argentina.
Benchmark expects Australia to remain dominant this decade. Currently, there are 13 lithium mines that produce lithium-containing spodumene rock although 75% of this output is still sent to China to be refined.
There is also criticism on how lithium is mined in Chile and Argentina as it comes from salt deserts called salars. Mining from salars is reported to cause droughts in the local areas, threatening local livestock and vegetation farms.
Most of the world’s cobalt meanwhile, comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo, where mining operations are also linked to both environmental and human-rights abuses.
Benchmark’s prediction estimates that 97 natural flake graphite mines are required in the next decade to assume an average of 56,000 tonnes a year with no contribution from recycling. Currently, there are over 70 mines operating globally with the majority located in China and Africa.
For lithium, the world needs 74 new mines with an average size of 45,000 tonnes by 2035. However, with the contribution of recycled lithium, this figure could be reduced to 59.
Since lithium mines take at least five years to build, they will need to be in operation by 2033, according to the research.
In the US – a former leader in lithium production throughout the 1990s – there is currently only one operational mine, but Lithium Americas is planning to build a mine in northern Nevada, whilst Ioneer USA Corp has plans to build a large one in southern Nevada.
As it stands, there is a federal law in the US dated from 1872 that governs mining on public lands in the US which both government parties, the Democrats and Republicans, are looking to update to allow for mines to be built.
Additionally, Tesla owner Elon Musk tweeted that the electric vehicle company may get into lithium mining and refining due to the high cost of the metal.
For nickel, 72 mining projects are required in the next decade, and for synthetic graphite, a total of 54 plants will need to be built by 2035, the survey predicted.
Recycling is set to have the biggest impact on cobalt mining. Without it, the industry would need to build 62 new cobalt mining projects by 2035.
Some start ups are starting to offer some innovative solutions, including Aceleron, which produces lithium batteries that have been designed to be kept, upgraded and extended easily.
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