Eye on Lithium: Prices continue to dip; hard rock impact greater than brine
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All your lithium news, Friday March 10.
Falling lithium chemical prices in China have led buyers on international spot markets to seek further discounts from their suppliers with the Benchmark Lithium Price Index down 6.2% in the assessment period between February 22 and March 8.
However, international contract prices held firm, with material being delivered under long-term deals at prices based on the previous quarter’s record-high spot pricing, resulting in higher contract prices than the current spot market in some cases.
Lithium carbonate prices are down 6.6% to US$58,721/t while lithium hydroxide slipped 5.4% to US$65,185/t as higher feedstock prices kept hydroxide prices from falling as much as carbonate pricing.
Spodumene concentrate took the biggest hit, falling 10.8% to US$5,350/t.
Benchmark also released its Lithium ESG report, which showed that lithium chemicals derived from hard-rock sources, which make up 60% of global mined lithium supply, can be over three times as carbon-intensive as that from brine sources.
The top 20 lithium chemical producers who use hard-rock sources all have higher carbon emissions than those using brine sources due to it being a more energy-intensive process.
Over half of the emissions associated with producing lithium hydroxide from spodumene come from China’s electricity grid or from the energy-intensive production of spodumene concentrate.
This is due in part to reliance of both Australian and Chinese electricity grids on fossil fuels for power generation.
By contrast, just 6% of the carbon emissions for lithium carbonate produced from brine sources are associated with the Chilean electricity grid.
Rather, the single largest contributor comes from the production of soda ash (29%) used to precipitate out lithium carbonate from the brine solution.
Hard-rock processing also uses more water than brine processing though Benchmark noted that both types of lithium processing have serious burdens and risks that need to be mitigated in order to reduce overall environmental burden.
It added that while the traditional evaporation method of lithium brine extraction only work in a limited number of geological locations, direct lithium extraction is expected to encroach on the market share of traditional brine sources over the coming decade and reach over 16% of the total mined lithium market share.
While lithium-ion batteries continue to dominate the energy storage sector, alternative battery chemistries have been emerging, which promise to deliver significant improvements.
Global renewable energy-storage innovator Gelion (AIM:GELN) has acquired a portfolio of more than 450 lithium sulphur and silicon anode patents, which, when combined with its existing intellectual property, may allow it to develop and manufacture advanced batteries in Australia.
Lithium sulphur batteries claim to provide higher gravimetric density (energy-to-weight ratio), greater safety and lower costs compared to regular lithium-ion batteries.
The new patents span 82 patent families and include solid and liquid electrolytes, disordered rock salt, electrode formulation, and battery materials recycling.
Their acquisition grants Gelion the solutions required to pursue and expedite development of its lithium sulphur and lithium silicon sulphur technologies as well as moving rapidly and methodically from research to commercialisation.
Other notable alternatives include the use of silicon as an anode material, which promises to increase battery capacity, decrease charging times, and lower costs.
Just 19 lithium companies found themselves in the green today, heavily outnumbered by the 74 companies that found themselves in red and another 44 that remained unchanged.
Drilling has highlighted a large northeastern extension of the existing Manna deposit within Global Lithium Resources’ Manna lithium project about 100km east of Kalgoorlie.
Most assays from its 2022 drilling have been received with highlighted intercepts including 17m at 1.76% Li2O from 341m, 15m at 1.72% Li2O from 277m, and 15m at 1.66% Li2O from 355m.
The 2023 drill program will target extensions of lithium-bearing pegmatites along strike.
A review of geophysical hole logging data and assays from Lithium Energy’s first drillhole has found an average lithium concentration of 446mg/l across a 175m intersection from 55m in the upper aquifer with an averaged Specific Yield of 15% and a concentration of 501mg/l across 60m from 265m in the lower Deep Sands Unit with an averaged Specific Yield of 11%.
The positive total porosity and specific yield measurements along with low magnesium to lithium ratios across both acquifers are considered highly favourable for potential future brine extraction.
These measurements will provide important data for the delineation of a maiden JORC resource at Solaroz.
Meanwhile, drilling of the second and third holes at Solaroz is now complete and pending geophysical hole logging and assays results and review while drilling of the next two of the 10-hole program will begin shortly.