Decoding the Lithium story

Decoding the Lithium story

Sanjay Panda, Business Head-India, South and Southeast Asia, Livent explains how lithium has emerged as a chemical element of choice for electric vehicles

  • By Rahul Koul | August 26, 2022

In comparison to the previous battery technologies such as nickel-cadmium and nickel-metal hydride, the lithium-ion batteries have a substantially higher energy density per kilogram. The rate of self-discharge is much lower for lithium-ion cells than for other rechargeable cells, which has led to its increased popularity.

“Lithium has been used as a mood stabilizing drug since the 19th century. Later from the 20th century till last decade it was preferred for chemical synthesis, battery for portable computers, communications devices, consumer goods and green tyres.  However, now it is used for auto mobility, grid storage, nuclear and solar power,” said Sanjay Panda, Business Head-India, South and Southeast Asia, Livent while sharing insights at the ‘NextGen Chemicals & Petrochemicals Summit 2022’ organized by Indian Chemical News on July 21-22, 2022. 

Explaining the benefits of lithium in today’s context, Panda said: “Lightest metal and solid element, Lithium is a highly chemically reactive substance not found on earth in elemental form. Biggest advantage of lithium is its highest change density and that’s the reason why it is used in battery applications.”

“Technology breakthroughs aren’t always anticipated. There were times when experts were skeptical about the uses of lithium. When cell phones came around in the 90s, people took time to accept it as a device. While the commercial application as of right now till the end of last century, lithium has major application is in electric vehicles. In 2020, there will be an investment of US$ 500 billion into electric vehicles. The static policies could ensure electric vehicles make a jump from 20 million to 250 million in a decade. Now a lot of new models are coming up and stability in terms of policy environment will help in the expansion of the market.  In terms of worldwide battery market scenario, it was around US$ 80 billion in 2016 and was estimated to be US$ 131 billion in 2021, growing at 11% CAGR. Going forward, it is now expected to grow at a double digit growth rate from the year 2021 to 2030. The focus on renewable energy, growth in the population and climate change factor which determines the replacement of traditional fossil fuels with alternative fuels,” added Panda.

Sharing his lithium ion battery market forecast, Panda said: “After a dismal performance for a long time, lithium ion has reached 250 gigawatt in 2020, and is expected to reach 250 trillion. Looking back, the biggest contribution comes from China. In 2030, the biggest driver will be the electric vehicles. The Li-ion battery market is expected to reach 2.2 TWh by 2030 from 250 GWh in 2020, at a CAGR of +18% in volume per year.”

In terms of outlook for the lithium batteries, Panda said: “The technology is evolving and prices have dropped. The lithium batteries have witnessed changes in cathode and anode.  A couple of days ago, CHL has announced that they have added manganese to the lithium ion and it will be 20% higher ion density. In terms of the lithium value chain, China, Japan, and Asia control 100% of the battery value chain, US and European Union are gearing up and will gain substantially in the coming days.”

Providing a layman’s insight into the source of lithium, Panda said: “Earth’s crust has about 17 ppm lithium while seawater has 0.1 ppm. Hardrock such as spodumene which is a source of lithium contains 8% lithium oxide. Next source is Brines which is a solar concentrated water where lithium presence is 200-2700 ppm. In geothermal it is up to 400 ppm, in the oil field it is 700 ppm and in sea water, it is 0.1%. Chile and Argentina or Bolivia in South America are the locations where it is found in adequate quantities.”

 “The future battery technology one will be zinc ion, lithium sulfur, solid state etc. Among the key factors that determine the success are energy density per kilogram of the battery, pricing and product life-cycle. In terms of life cycle, to what extent the batteries must be charged is the question that requires an answer. The commercial and advanced battery technology, lithium carbon has best performance as it allows good power density and fast charging. Sodium ion and lithium carbon are semi solid battery options that offer energy storage. However, these are the futuristic technologies that would be available by 2030 and beyond,” concluded Panda.

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