Lithium, sometimes referred to as ‘white petroleum,’ is a key component in energy storage and in recent years demand has skyrocketed
Almost three-quarters of the world’s lithium raw materials come from mines in Australia or briny lakes in Chile (one of which, in the Atacama Desert, is seen here) giving them leverage with customers scrambling to tie-up supplies. The mining nations hope to bring refining and manufacturing plants that could help kickstart domestic technology industries. Photo: Oliver Llaneza Hesse/Construction Photography/Avalon/Getty Images
By James Ellsmoor
As the world moves towards a low-carbon future, there is a growing range of technological advancements facilitating the transition away from fossil fuels. Transportation and energy production are two sectors that desperately need to reduce emissions, and developments in electric vehicles and battery storage are rapidly changing both markets. Lithium, sometimes referred to as “white petroleum”, is a key component in energy storage and in recent years demand has skyrocketed. This week delegates are gathering in Chile, the country with the world’s biggest lithium reserves, at the 11th Lithium Supply & Markets Conference to discuss the latest advances in the industry.
Large scale batteries as a storage option for renewable energy on main electricity grids reached prominence after Elon Musk challenged himself to upgrade South Australia’s energy grid within one hundred days. It took only sixty-three days for Tesla to build a 100MW lithium-ion battery, the largest in the world, capable of kicking in as the state’s backup power source within less than a second. Using renewable energy as its prime power source, the battery helped improve the viability of renewables in South Australia, smoothing out issues with the intermittency of supply.
This mega-battery kicks in to stabilize the energy grid in the event of coal-powered plants or wind farms unexpectedly shutting down. In December 2017, a major coal generator in the neighboring state of New South Wales tripped, depriving the grid of over 689MW of capacity. However, the batteries kicked in within a second, assuring there would be no blackout.
The storage system has also cut energy costs for consumers in South Australia. By buying and selling power during fluctuating demand, the Tesla battery generates revenue, making close to $1.4 million AUD ($960,000 USD) through five days of volatile prices. As a result of its flexibility and improvement over current energy storage options, it has led many utility companies to consider the future uses of large-scale batteries. However, there are some outstanding issues that are threatening to limit the growth of lithium batteries.
A finite resource
The growing use of lithium batteries to store energy has exposed one of the dirtier sides of transitioning to a low carbon economy. To create these batteries, there is a need for a range of rare earth metals that require heavy mining and manufacturing that emit significant emissions. Furthermore, major components such as lithium, nickel, and cobalt exist in a finite amount that is unlikely to meet the current and future demands for battery units. So what options are available to help meet present and future needs, and how can it reduce pollution in the process?
Electric Vehicles Are Driving Demand for Lithium — With Environmental Consequences
Lithium, sometimes referred to as ‘white petroleum,’ is a key component in energy storage and in recent years demand has skyrocketed ForbesJun 11 Almost three-quarters of the world’s lithium raw materials come from mines in Australia or briny lakes in Chile (one of which, in the Atacama Desert, is seen here) giving them leverage with… [Read More]