Could cheap, salt batteries power electric cars – threatening lithium and cobalt?
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Lithium stocks De Grey and Lithium Australia rose today after separate announcements — but could their future be under threat from plain old salt?
Salt has been used for centuries in food preservation and industrial processes — but it can also be used in batteries to power electric vehicles and other technological gizmos at a lower cost than lithium-ion batteries, according to researchers.
Lithium and cobalt prices are expected to rise sharply in response to increased demand from electric vehicle makers and other battery-hungry applications. In response, researchers have been looking for alternative, lower-cost methods that have similar storage characteristics as lithium batteries.
Stanford University researchers have developed a sodium-based battery that can store the same amount of energy as a lithium ion battery — at less than 80 per cent of the cost of lithium ion batteries.
What’s more, salt is in significant abundance while lithium is rare — it’s primarily found in brines and hard rock — and costs a considerable amount to extract and process into battery-grade lithium.
Cobalt — another metal used in the development of lithium-ion batteries — is primarily found in the Democratic Republic of Congo where there have been on-going concerns of political instability and use of child labour at cobalt mines.
“Nothing may ever surpass lithium in performance,” Stanford Chemical engineer Zhenan Bao said.
“But lithium is so rare and costly that we need to develop high-performance but low-cost batteries based on abundant elements like sodium.”
The research found that the cost of sodium-based electrode material to create the battery is just $US150 ($190) a tonne, compared to the cost of lithium which comes in at around $US15,000 a tonne to mine and refine.
Researchers have used a sodium-based electrode with a positively charged ion – sodium – joined to a negatively charged ion — myo-inositol. Myo-inositol is an abundant organic compound found in baby formula and derived from rice bran.
The Stanford team improved how sodium and myo-inositol enable the flow of electrons, significantly boosting the performance of this sodium ion battery over previous attempts by creating more storage capacity and greater reversible charge.
The Australian Renewable Energy Agency is also trialling a low-cost, sodium-ion battery to be used at the Illawarra Flame House and Sydney Water’s Bondi Sewage Pumping Station.
De Grey finds lithium
Market darling De Grey Mining told investors intersected high grade lithium from its maiden reverse circulation drilling program at its King Col pegmatite prospect in Western Australia.
The stock (ASX:DEG) rose 5 per cent to 23c on the news, before settling back to 22c in Monday afternoon trade
Results included 17 metres at 2.6 per cent lithium oxide, 8 metres at 1 per cent lithium oxide and 1 metre at 8.6 per cent.
The company has completed 22 RC holes at the south-western end of the 7.5km trend for a total of 1684 metres.
De Grey will seek to carry out diamond core drilling to assess mineralogy plus mapping and soil sampling of untested 5.5km strike of pegmatite trend.
De Grey exploration manager Phil Tornatora said the King Col was in an exceptional lithium province with the Pilgangoora and Wodgina lithium deposits located only 40 kilometres away to the south.
Lithium Australia buys stake in Mexican lithium project
Perth-based Lithium Australia has taken a 54 per cent controlling stake in the Electra lithium project in northwest Mexico.
The project comprises three concessions and is subject to a farm-in and joint venture between Lithium Australia and Canadian-based Alix Resources Corporation.
The company took 54 per cent majority ownership following a drilling program which confirmed a 2.5km mineralised zone between 25 and 50 metres thick on one of the concessions.
Shares in Lithium Australia were trading 13 per cent higher at 17.5c in Monday afternoon trade.