Critical minerals and metals are a selection of niche raw materials that are higher risk owing to a number of factors including their insecure supply situation and/or the growing importance of the end market they are used in.
They tend not to be commodities like iron ore, coal, bauxite and oil, but rather specialist raw materials used in hi-tech applications like smartphones, tablets, batteries and defence technology. These emerging technological markets have also given rise to the terms technology metals and greentech minerals.
These raw materials have usually been developed for a mature industrial market such as steel but are now experiencing supply and demand tensions as new markets emerge and compete for the same raw materials. This had led to supply shortages, price volatility and a rise in exploration for new resources.
These niche industries are also usually heavily reliant on one country as the leading source. Low cost mining countries such as China, Mongolia and Democratic Republic of Congo have risen to supply dominance in these small industries.
Minerals such as rare earths, graphite, lithium, cobalt, and vanadium have all been deemed critical by various organisations such as European Commission and the British Geological Survey.
Methodologies vary between each organisation, but rare earths are widely deemed to be the most critical of all niche minerals and metals.
Speciality minerals and metals can refer to critical and non-critical raw materials that are sold into niche markets.
They are usually produced in smaller volumes, highly processed and are not commodities. The major difference between specialist and critical minerals are is the nature of their end use. Specialist raw materials may be used in non-critical or non-strategic end markets such as ceramics, glass, plastics, and paper.
These include: kaolin, limestone, gypsum, talc, diatomite, bentonite and perlite.
Battery raw materials are a collection of minerals and metals used to produce the key components that make up a battery.
These minerals include cathode materials such as: lithium, cobalt, aluminium, vanadium, nickel, phosphate, sulphur (sulfur), and manganese.
batteries cathode is made from carbon which is derived from natural flake graphite processed into spherical graphite or synthetic graphite.
The third major battery component is a separator most commonly manufactured from polymer.
It is important to note that a mineral can be both metallic and non-metallic, but for the purposes of clarity we refer to non-metallic minerals as minerals and metallic minerals as metals.
Graphite is one of the purest and most crystalline forms of carbon and is one of the key input raw materials into batteries. It can be either mined or synthetically made. Natural graphite is mined in three forms: vein, flake and amorphous (microcrystalline).
Flake graphite is the feedstock or precursor to the battery grade material known as spherical graphite. Synthetic graphite powder also competes with its natural counterpart in the battery space. Graphite’s other major uses are in steel, as refractories and recarburizers, lubricants and industrial shapes and components such as gaskets and carbon brushes.
There are no viable substitutes to natural or synthetic graphite.
Flake graphite is a crystalline form of natural graphite that occurs in different sized flakes in the ground. Flakes can range from small (-150 mesh) to medium (-100 mesh), large (+100, +80 mesh), and extra-large or jumbo (+50 mesh).
Flake graphite ore is processed into a concentrate through crushing, grinding, flotation and drying. The average carbon content of flake graphite concentrate is 94-95% C, but can also range from 88-93% C and 95-98% C. This concentrate can also be subjected to chemical and thermal purification and milling methods, which produces a purity of in excess of 99.5% C for high value markets such as batteries.
Flake graphite is the feedstock for spherical or battery-grade graphite.
Spherical graphite, also known as battery grade graphite, is the product that is consumed as an anode in lithium-ion batteries.
Flake graphite concentrate is processed into high purity (>99.95% C), microscopic (15 to 5 microns) spheres which are coated and used as a battery anode material.
China dominates nearly all production for uncoated spherical graphite, while Japan, South Korea and China hold the vast majority of the world’s spherical graphite coating capacity.
Amorphous graphite is the microcrystalline form and lowest value product of the natural graphite family. It is primarily used as an additive to the steel industry and is most commonly sourced in southern China where it is briquetted for use in the Asian steel markets.
Vein graphite is a rare form of natural graphite that has very high purity in the ground. While the economic grade of flake graphite can range from 2-25% C (on average), vein graphite can reach up to 99% C. Such is its unique geological formation, it is only commercially mined in Sri Lanka and is not found in large deposits, but thin vein formations that can reach depths of over 2km.
Because of the unique properties of vein graphite, but with limited supply, vein graphite has specialist market applications such as nuclear, batteries, fuel cells, carbon brushes, plastics, friction, lubricants, and refractories.
Vein graphite is also known as Ceylon graphite and lump graphite.
Synthetic graphite is man-made graphite that is produced from processing or graphitizing carbon-rich raw materials such as petroleum coke (pet coke) and binder at temperatures in excess of 2,000 degrees Celsius.
Major producers of synthetic graphite are China, US, Germany, Japan and France.
Total natural graphite global supply since 2000 has ranged from 600,000 tpa to 1.01m tonnes.
Natural graphite is mined predominately in China and Brazil, with smaller volumes produced in Canada, Sri Lanka, India, Madagascar, Norway, Sweden, Ukraine and Russia.
Flake graphite is the most widely produced natural graphite product with over half of global supply from China in Heilongjiang, Shandong and Inner Mongolia provinces. India mines smaller amounts of flake graphite for domestic consumption while also reprocessing imported raw material.
Canada is home to North America’s only operating graphite mines at present, but an exploration surge in 2011 saw a huge increase in the number of exploration projects on the continent. There are a number of development stage projects that could become the world’s newest mines in countries and regions such as Canada, Australia, Mozambique, Madagascar, USA, Brazil, and Europe.
The steel market drives natural graphite demand today through its use in refractories and as a recarburizer.
Refractories are bricks and linings resistant to high temperature and highly corrosive environments. Without refractory linings, the world would not be able to make steel, and without graphite as a key input raw material, the production of magnesia-carbon bricks (steel refractories) would also not be possible.
Batteries have emerged to become an important and dominant market for flake, vein and synthetic graphite in recent years. Graphite’s use as an anode material in all battery types has seen demand increase in line with the consumption of lithium-ion batteries in portable technology and electric vehicles.
Both steel and batteries are competing for the raw material, a dynamic which is expected to add increasing pressure on the supply side of the market in the coming years.
Other important industrial markets for natural graphite are lubricants, carbon brushes, foundry, powder metallurgy, plastics and fuel cells.
Synthetic graphite is predominately consumed in a graphite electrode form for recycling steel which accounts for just under half of demand. Another major market for synthetic is to produce graphite blocks or isotropic graphite that can be cut to shape for markets such as photovoltaic / solar cell production.
This process also produces graphite dust or powder (secondary synthetic graphite) which can be resold to other markets such as lubricants, competing with natural graphite. Primary synthetic graphite is made-for-purpose for high value markets such as lithium-ion batteries.
Graphite is priced in private contracts between buyer and seller.
Prices can be both negotiated on a spot market and in long term contracts.
Benchmark Mineral Intelligence tracks natural graphite prices via its Data subscription service. Both the graphite purity and flake size will dictate the market price, with the larger the flake or higher the purity commanding a higher price.
It is important to note that natural graphite prices have been more volatile in recent years to an uncertain economic environment and emerging end markets.
The most common shipping method is container in both one-tonne bags (big bags) and 25kg sacks and, to a lesser extent, bulk shipments in big bags. The most common shipping terms are EXW, FOB and CIF.
Lithium, one of the key input raw materials in lithium-ion batteries, is naturally extracted through mineral-rich brine resources or traditional, hard rock mining operations. While lithium is commonly thought of as a metal, its non-metallic form is most widely consumed with batteries being the leading market.
Lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide are the industry’s most widely produced chemicals and both are consumed in battery cathodes, while lithium metal, butyl lithium, and lithium chloride are also part of the lithium family of products. Major uses for lithium chemicals are in ceramics, glass, industrial greases and advanced metals.
Lithium carbonate (Li2O3) is the non-metallic form of the metal, lithium. It is an inorganic compound and produced in a white salt form that is sold in 25kg sacks.
Lithium carbonate is the first chemical produced in the lithium value chain and is widely seen by the chemical industry as the starting raw material for a family of lithium products.
It is used in many end markets including batteries, fritz in ceramics and glass and for medical applications as a mood stabilizer.
Lithium hydroxide (LiOH) is a derivative product of lithium carbonate and is used predominately in industrial greases and batteries as a cathode alternative to lithium carbonate.
Lithium chloride (LiCl) is a derivative product of lithium carbonate that is very hydroscopic (ability to attract and hold water molecules). The primary markets for lithium chloride include feedstock for the production of lithium metal, humidity control and as a flux.
Despite common beliefs, lithium metal is a minor market for the lithium industry in terms of volume and accounts for about 5% of the overall market. It is a derivative product of lithium chloride which in turn is produce from lithium carbonate.
The markets for lithium metal include primary (non-rechargeable) lithium batteries, advanced metals including lithium-aluminium (aluminium) alloys, and in the organic synthesis of compounds used in pharmaceutical industry.
The primary source of lithium is from brine: land-locked, subsurface salt lakes from which mineral-rich liquid is extracted and processed for lithium and potash.
Chile, Argentina and China are the leading sources of lithium brine and account for over two thirds of the world’s lithium chemical production.
The world’s only major source of hard rock lithium is Australia, which operates the largest spodumene mine in the world. Other sources of lithium include hectorite clay, seawater and oilfield but these are not yet operating commercially for lithium extraction.
Batteries are the major end market for lithium, commanding over one third of demand for all lithium chemicals. Both lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide are used as the starting raw materials used to make a number of lithium-ion cathode products.
Battery demand for lithium has risen to prominence since 2005 with the advent of the lithium-ion battery in mobile phones, smartphones, laptops and tablets. The more recent rise of the electric vehicle (EV) has seen increased demand and supply-side pressures on the lithium market.
Ceramics and glass remains the second largest market for lithium chemicals, consuming lithium carbonate and accounting for one fifth of demand.
Other major uses for lithium products include industrial grease, advanced metals such as lithium-aluminium alloys, polymers and air treatment.
Lithium is not an exchanged traded product and its prices are negotiated privately between the buyer and seller.
Lithium prices can be both negotiated on a spot market and in long term contracts.
Benchmark Mineral Intelligence tracks lithium prices via its Data subscription service.
Both the lithium purity and the particle size will dictate the price.
It is important to note that lithium prices have been more volatile in recent years to an uncertain economic environment and emerging end markets.
The most common lithium shipping method is container in 25kg sacks and 100kg drums, while the most common shipping terms are EXW, FOB and CIF.
Cobalt is mined as a metal concentrate, usually as a by-product of nickel or copper, and sold as both a metal and non-metallic or chemical product.
Chemicals account for over half of cobalt output, a market which has risen to dominance over the last decade through the increase in global battery production. A number of cobalt metal products make up the remainder of the market.
The majority of primary supply is from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), accounting for over half of the world’s output, while China controls the majority of global refining capacity.
Cobalt is sourced predominately as a by-product from nickel or copper production with under 5% of primary supply from dedicated cobalt mines.
The major challenge with the sourcing of cobalt is over-reliance on the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), one the world’s poorest and most politically unstable countries. While Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) does not have significant processing capacities, it supplies over half of the world’s cobalt concentrate to refineries, the majority of which reside in China.
China also sources cobalt concentrate from south east Asia, Australia, and South America.
Other major refining countries are Finland, Zambia, Belgium and Canada, but China’s capacity is still larger than all four of these countries combined.
Batteries are the major end market for cobalt, accounting for nearly half of demand.
Used as a key raw material in battery cathodes, demand for cobalt from this application has risen to prominence since 2005 with the advent of the lithium-ion battery in mobile phones, smartphones, laptops and tablets. The more recent rise of the electric vehicle (EV) has seen increased demand and supply-side pressures on the cobalt market.
Cobalt’s hardness as a metal sees it being used in super-alloys and hard materials used in cutting tools. It is also used as a catalyst in hydrocarbon production and has a wide variety of other end uses such as pigments, synthetic diamonds and animal feed.
Cobalt metal is traded on the London Metal Exchange (LME) and also in private contracts between buyers and sellers.
Cobalt began trading on the LME in 2014, a move that brought more liquidity to a mature and slower marketplace. The availability of cobalt through the LME platform makes it easier for non-primary buyers to enter the industry for speculation and investment purposes.
The prices of cobalt chemical products sold into the battery industry are still privately agreed between buyer and seller.
Vanadium is mined as a primary raw material and extracted as a by-product from steel production that uses vanadium-bearing iron ore. Vanadium’s main end use is as a strengthening agent in steel, which dominates the demand and supply patterns of the industry. Around 90% is used in steel with China being the primary customer.
However, with rising interest in vanadium flow batteries for utility storage, this has the potential to change over the medium term and certainly for the demand of vanadium pentoxide, the battery grade material.
Vanadium pentoxide is used as a cathode material for two types of batteries: vanadium flow and lithium vanadium phosphate.
Supply of vanadium metal, the industry’s leading product, is dominated by China, which accounts for around half of total global output. Russia and South Africa are the other major producers, accounting for a third of the world’s total supply.
Supply of vanadium elsewhere is very limited with only a handful of small producers in Europe and the rest of the world.
The majority of vanadium is sourced as a by-product of steel slag production while roughly one fifth of supply is from primary vanadium ore. As a result there are very few dedicated vanadium mines in existence.
The vanadium cost of production is on average between $10-15/lb for by-production from steel slag and for primary ore. Secondary vanadium is more expensive to produce and can be up to 40% higher in cost.
Vanadium demand is driven by steel and its use as a strengthening agent. Vanadium is used in particular to strengthen steel rebar, the ubiquitous steel rods used in the construction industry. Adding just a small amount of vanadium to the rebar production process can result in significant strengthening of the end product.
When China changed its building regulations in 2006 to upgrade its rebar from Grade 2 to Grade 3, demand for vanadium jumped and a huge new market opened up.
Vanadium’s other uses include titanium alloys and in chemicals.
The promise of vanadium pentoxide’s use in utility storage batteries could offer a new market for vanadium demand. The vanadium redox flow battery (VRB) is being touted as a solution to commercial energy storage problems.
Vanadium prices are set in private contracts between the buyer and seller.
A number of publications track market prices for vanadium metal and, to a lesser extent, vanadium pentoxide. In the mid-2000s, vanadium experienced extreme price volatility due to an increase in demand from China for ferro-vanadium after it changed its building regulations for rebar used in construction. This caused a squeeze in supply and extreme price volatility, which saw increases of over 100% in a 2-3 month period.
Rare earths (RE) or rare earth elements (REE) are a collection of elements found in a number of host raw materials that are critical to modern day technology, including smartphones, computers, defence applications, and health care.
Rare earths also have many industrial uses including petroleum cracking, light bulbs, and catalytic convertors. To be commercially viable, rare earths need to be highly processed before being sold in kilogram bags.
There are 17 rare earth elements found in nature that are grouped into light rare earth elements (LREE) and heavy rare earth elements (HREE).
Light rare earth elements are: Lanthanum (La), Cerium (Ce), Praseodymium (Pr), Neodymium (Nd), Promethium (Pm), Samarium (Sm), Europium (Eu), and Gadolinium (Gd).
Heavy rare earth elements are: Terbium (Tb), Dysprosium (Dy), Holmium (Ho), Erbium (Er), Thulium (Tm), Ytterbium (Yb), Lutetium (Lu), and Yttrium (Y).
Scandium (Sc) is also considered a rare earth but is not classified either as a heavy or light element. Rare earths are widely considered the highest risk of all critical minerals and metals. China produces around 90% of all rare earth elements.
Lead is a soft metal that is predominately used in batteries and, to a lesser extent, in pigments and rolled and extruded metals.
Lead is the key raw material for lead acid batteries, which are most economical for large scale stationary applications where weight is not an issue. Lead acid batteries are also used in car batteries and for back-up power systems.
Recycled lead acid batteries are now a major source of raw material for the industry.
China accounts for over half of the world’s lead production.
Demand for cadmium metal is driven by batteries and its use in the nickel cadmium (NiCd) battery.
The NiCd design was the original battery used in power tools but it is now being phased out and being replaced with lithium-ion or nickel metal hydride batteries (NiMH).
Other uses for cadmium include pigments, coatings and non-ferrous alloys.
China and South Korea are the leading producers of cadmium.
The primary driver of nickel metal demand is the steel and electroplating markets, while it is also a key raw material in nickel-based battery chemistries.
While the nickel cadmium (NiCd) battery is being phased out (see Cadmium), nickel metal hydride (NiMH) technology has seen strong usage in mobile applications over the last ten years.
Its low energy density and favourable cost has seen the NiMH battery used in hybrid electric vehicles, power tools and mobile phones. In recent years, however, the lithium-ion battery has taken market share away from NiMH in these applications.
A nickel compound is also used in some lithium-ion cathode materials, such as nickel cobalt aluminium (NCA) and nickel manganese cobalt (NMC).
Indonesia, Philippines, Russia, Australia, Canada and Brazil are all producers of nickel.
Mined as the mineral borates, boron is traditionally used to produce glass and fibreglass. However, in batteries, boron is seeing increasing use in research and development of new anode chemistries.
Adding boron to a battery’s anode material, which is traditionally graphite, has improved the performance of a lithium-ion battery on laboratory-scale testing. Boron has also seen increased use in the newer silicon based battery technology in electrodes.
Neither of these technologies are yet to be commercialised, but boron’s diverse use means it could be featuring in mainstream batteries in the near future.
Boron is mined in Turkey, US, Russia and China.
Consumed predominately as a fertiliser raw material, phosphate is also used in small quantities to produce the lithium iron phosphate battery (LiFePO4).
With a constant discharge rate, little power drop off throughout a full discharge, and a longer life cycle, lithium iron phosphate batteries have found increasing commercial use in power tools.
China dominates global supply of phosphate, while the US, Morocco, Russia and Jordan produce smaller amounts.
Manganese is a metal that is predominately consumed in industrial applications such as steel and alloy production. However, the battery sector has been growing in prominence for the industry.
Manganese has found past uses in rechargeable alkaline batteries and increasing use in lithium-ion designs, namely nickel manganese cobalt and lithium manganese oxide cathode materials.
The addition of manganese into the cathode compound paved the way for lithium-ion batteries to be used in power tools. Now the industry is looking at implementing these designs for electric vehicles.
South Africa, China, Australia and Gabon are leading suppliers of manganese.
Sulphur is a common raw material that is produced as a by-product from oil and gas desulfurization. It is primarily used as a feedstock for sulphuric acid production, a very important base product for the chemical industry.
In batteries, small volumes of sulphur are consumed to produce lithium sulphur batteries, which some believe have the potential to succeed lithium-ion designs.
Sulphur is used in conjunction with lithium in the cathode, giving a higher energy density and a lighter weight to existing designs. The technology is yet to be commercialised, however, despite successful tests nearly a decade ago.
Aluminium alloys, polymers and solar panels are the market drivers for silicon.
In the battery industry, the silicon air battery is a revolutionary new concept that uses silicon rather than graphite as the anode and eliminates the need for a cathode material, which is replaced by the oxygen in the air.
The result of the new make-up means it can store far more energy than conventional batteries, last longer, and charge in a fraction of the time; however, fundamental problems with expansion still exist. The design was created five years ago and is the subject of extensive research. Panasonic attempted to commercialise silicon air in 2009, but is yet to see any concrete results.
China dominates silicon production, accounting for over half of the market, while other countries such as Russia, US, Brazil and Norway produce much smaller volumes.
Defined as two or more cells that work in tandem to release electric energy. Each cell contains a positive component (cathode) and a negative component (anode) which are both made of a variety of raw materials – minerals and metals that are mined.
There are two main groups of batteries: primary and secondary. Primary batteries can only be used once with examples including alkaline batteries that are used in portable devices like TV remote controls.
Secondary batteries (rechargeable batteries) can be discharged and charged many times with classic examples including lithium-ion (Li-ion) and nickel metal hydride (NiMH).
Batteries are predominately identified by their cathode chemistry, with different designs hosting different properties that can be used for a number of applications. Lithium and nickel based cathode chemistries are the most common.
Lithium-ion batteries are a group of rechargeable batteries based on a lithium cathode chemistry.
There are many types of lithium-ion battery designs in commercial use, including:
Lithium cobalt oxide (LCO) is the most common chemistry in today’s rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, while lithium nickel cobalt aluminium oxide (NCA) and lithium nickel manganese cobalt oxide (NMO) have also had good commercial traction.
For a full list of cathode chemistries click here.
The anode is an electrode that releases electrons on discharge through oxidation and is always negative.
The anode in the majority of today’s battery designs is made from graphite (carbon) – both naturally mined and synthetically created material. Typically, a battery will need more raw material for an anode than a cathode.
A cathode is the active / positive electrode in a rechargeable battery and is created from a combination of metal oxides.
The most common cathode chemistry today is based on lithium carbonate or lithium hydroxide combined with a number of different minerals and metals. The most common chemistries include:
A separator is a permeable, polymer membrane inserted into a battery to keep the anode and cathode apart to prevent short circuiting. It also promotes the flow of ions between the cathode and anode.
Polyethylene and Polypropylene are the most common polymer separator films though non-woven fibres can also be used.
Electric vehicles can refer to a whole family of vehicle designs that are battery powered in some way. This can include cars (EV), Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEV), hybrids, extended range vehicles, and electric bikes (E-Bikes).
The major difference between each design is the size of the battery and the extent in which it uses the gasoline motor. At one end of the spectrum is the hybrid, which uses a small rechargeable battery and a larger gasoline motor, while at the other end is the full electric vehicle, which is 100% battery powered, with all other designs in between.
An electric vehicle or EV is a vehicle that is propelled by one or more electric motors that is powered by a rechargeable battery. An EV needs to be fully recharged from an external power source after every full discharge or use of the battery.
The most famous EVs include the Model S and Model X by Tesla Motors and the Leaf by Nissan, which solely require a battery to power the vehicle with no back up gasoline engine. An EV’s battery capacity can range from 36kWh to 85kWh in capacity, the latter being the largest on the market and installed in the Model S.
The range of an EV can vary from 200-300 miles.
Other terms include Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV).
While this is a form of electric vehicle (EV), the PHEV is a plug-in hybrid design that alternates between a battery powered electric motor and a gasoline engine.
For most designs the gasoline engine works as a back up to the battery or is used when the car travels over a certain speed. It serves to extend the range of the vehicle while making it more economical on fuel consumption.
The batteries are much smaller than in EVs and require less charging as they tend to get recharged by the gasoline motor; however, they still need to be plugged into an external power source and charged. The typical electric range is 40 miles.
The most famous examples of a PHEV are the newer models of the Toyota Prius, the first hybrid available in 1997, and the Chevrolet Volt.
A predecessor to its PHEV cousin, a Hybrid Electric Vehicle (HEV) uses a smaller battery which is charged via gasoline engine and regenerative breaking. It cannot be charged via plugging it into an electricity supply.
HEVs are designed to be more economical with fuel, and to cut idle emissions rather than be battery powered.
While not commercially very common, Extended Range Electric Vehicles are available to the public.
EREVs consist of an even smaller battery than the PHEV – for travelling on short journeys of up to 25 miles – and a small gasoline engine that backs up the battery. In essence, it is a step closer to the gasoline powered vehicle than the PHEV.
An EREV only uses the gasoline engine once the battery is exhausted, a key difference from the PHEV.
Utility or stationary energy storage is the use of a battery for large scale, immobile applications rather than the smaller scale mobile applications needed in mobile technology or electric vehicles.
This is a new market that requires much larger batteries and is only just beginning to see commercial traction and new products being designed.
The two main utility storage markets that are expected to develop over the next few years are home and commercial.
Because these batteries are stationary, this widens the opportunity for other battery chemistries besides lithium-ion to enter the marketplace. Vanadium redox flow battery is one such design that is being touted as a suitable chemistry for commercial energy storage, but cost of production is likely to be the deciding factor over which battery design is adopted.
Commercial Energy Storage is the ability to use very large batteries to power commercial units such as warehouses, factories or offices. While a battery large enough could have the capacity to power a full commercial operation, it is likely that these systems will be used to store renewable energy, increase an operation’s power capacity, and as a low cost source of power during peak times.
Commercial battery systems will range from 100kWh to over 10MWh.
Also known as residential storage, home energy storage is the ability to store electricity and power an individual house via a single battery pack.
A home battery pack is likely to be slightly larger in capacity that that of a full EV. New models such as the Tesla Motors Powerwall range from 7kWh for daily use and 10kWh to store enough energy as backup power in times of a blackout. Both units will have continuous power of 2kWh and will be lithium-ion cells.
The idea to use batteries on this scale is new, but the concept to use batteries to store back up power has long been in place in commercial buildings or important utilities such as hospitals.
Home Energy Storage batteries hold the greatest potential to bring continuous power to areas of the world that are not connected to the power grid. When connected with renewable energy sources such as solar, communities could have continuous power off-grid without the need for gasoline generators.
Renewable energy is a source of energy that is replenished on a human time scale. The most common sources of renewable energy are hydro, solar and wind, while geothermal and tidal energy also contribute to the world’s renewable output.
The link between renewable energy and batteries is intrinsic, with many believing batteries hold the key to making renewables economic.
The ability to store the intermittent power generated by renewable sources such as solar and wind and then recall the power when ready to consume has not been widely available until now. Many expect this to contribute to the tipping point for wide scale adoption of what have been fringe technologies.
Defined as power obtained by harnessing the energy of the wind. To generate wind power requires the construction of huge turbines in the windier areas of the world.
The basic turbine design is a bladed rotor that drives a shaft to a generator.
While the construction of turbines are costly and unsightly to many, the larger models can generate a significant amount of electricity, up to 8MW.
Defined as the conversion of sunlight into electrical power. The most common method is by using photovoltaic (PV) cells, also known as solar panels.
Solar panels are made from silicon sourced from high purity quartz, photovoltaic material that produces direct current electricity from sunlight.
The Gigafactory is the name Tesla Motors Inc gave to its lithium-ion battery plant it is building in Nevada, USA.
Announced in early 2014, the Gigafactory is a $5bn project to build the world’s largest lithium-ion battery plant. Expected to launch in 2017 and reach its 35GW production capacity in 2020, the Gigafactory will be so large that it will produce the equivalent of the world’s total battery production in 2013 and dwarf any battery plant that existed pre-2015.
The goal for Tesla Motors, a high end electric vehicle manufacturer, is to produce lithium-ion batteries cheap enough to use in its range of electric vehicles – Model S, Model X and Model III – in a bid to lower the total production cost of the car and spark mass uptake.
Tesla Motors are hoping that by mass producing lithium-ion batteries at the Gigafactory, it can reduce the cost of lithium-ion batteries by 30% on 2014 levels.
As a result, Tesla Motors will require huge volumes of battery raw materials including graphite, lithium, and cobalt.
The company’s long-standing partnership with Japan’s Panasonic Corp will continue with the Gigafactory, with Tesla Motors using the Panasonic design lithium-ion cell technology based on a nickel cobalt aluminium cathode. This means Tesla Motors will need to source the less common lithium hydroxide as a starting raw material for the Gigafactory.
It is understood that while there is an agreement in place, Tesla Motors will have to do the bulk of the raw material sourcing separate from Panasonic, who will aid with the cell construction once the plant is operational.
The Gigafactory is located at the Reno-Tahoe Industrial Center in Storey County, near Reno, Nevada, USA.
Battery megafactories is a term created by Benchmark Mineral Intelligence to describe the surge of new, huge lithium-ion battery plants that have been scheduled since Tesla Motors announced the Gigafactory.
A number of battery or electronics manufacturers have since announced plants to produce battery megafactories, including LG Chem, Foxconn Technology Group, BYD, and Boston Power. This is in addition to expansions from existing producers such as ATL and Samsung SDI.