Tag Archives: lithium

The Lithium Mine Versus the Wildflower

The Lithium Mine Versus the Wildflower

The environmental ethicist Katie McShane compares our reverence for species to the word freedom. Everyone believes in it, but nobody knows what it means. “Even if you agree that it has value, it doesn’t tell you what to do when that value conflicts with my needs,” she says.

Comparing the value of things, weighing the costs and benefits of one against the other, is increasingly the preoccupation of environmentalists. Sometimes those competing things both have a claim in the natural world; sometimes one has a claim to bettering human life. Or the planet as a whole. If the mine at Rhyolite Ridge were digging for gold or copper, perhaps it would be easier to dismiss its value. Everyone benefits from raw materials, but it can be easy to say that you don’t “need” gold or that dollar value isn’t paramount. With lithium, denial is harder. Donnelly and Fraga both agree that the country—the world—needs to wean itself from fossil fuels. Lithium and sunshine are abundant in the desert Southwest, and so the transition to green energy will likely bring a new level of industrialization to its landscape. Mines and solar power plants will compete with rare buckwheat and desert tortoises. But in the absence of those mines and power plants, the desert will still suffer. For all their harsh conditions and seeming barrenness, deserts are fragile places, the life there is easily imperiled by higher temperatures and more frequent droughts. The conditions demand we formulate a moral equation: What is the value of the mine versus the value of the plant?

All mines have a dirty side, whether or not their products are “green.” They can destroy landscapes or pollute water supplies or expel greenhouse gases. Historically, mining companies have cared little about those impacts, doing the bare minimum to adhere to regulations. But lithium miners face extra pressure to act responsibly, explains Alex Grant, a technical adviser who works with those mines. Electric vehicle buyers are likely to care, for example, that 25 percent of their car’s lifetime carbon impact comes from the battery supply chain. So automakers, seeking to enhance their climate-friendly reputations, have increasingly leaned on lithium suppliers to burn less coal and seek certifications attesting that their mines do not ruin waters and habitats.

It is impossible to make every cost go away. As Grant sees it, there is no alternative to digging up lithium. The status quo of fossil-burning cars is not an option. What did opponents of lithium mining expect? A return to the horse and buggy? “We don’t need every project,” he says. “Some of them might have impacts that we should not accept. But we’re going to need a large fraction of them, that’s for sure.”

Each project seems to have its own set of costs that someone will find unacceptable, which makes deciding which ones should be allowed to move forward yet more difficult. In Nevada’s far north, Thacker Pass, another major lithium project close to digging, is held up by disputes with indigenous groups and ranchers over water rights and pollution. The same is true in places like Chile and Bolivia. Alternatives that appear more ecologically appealing, like brines near California’s Salton Sea, have been talked about for decades, but the technology and financing behind those projects is uncertain. We could look to the oceans, maybe; deep-sea mining could offer lithium on a scale that would make any terrestrial mine seem puny. But the environmental costs of that approach are arguably even less well understood, and potentially enormous.

In that context, the fate of a humble flower seems like a very small thing when the lithium can be had so soon, and with few extra complications. Mining interests, ranchers, and developers have long argued that the process of listing endangered species should factor in economic costs, like the lost value of a mine or the expense of keeping a species on life support when it seems natural forces could select it out of existence.

Author: Gregory Barber
This post originally appeared on Backchannel Latest

Get ready for a MEGA-RALLY, world’s largest lithium producer says

Get ready for a MEGA-RALLY, world’s largest lithium producer says

With the EV boom squarely in the front view mirror, and with battery gigafactories promising to be heavy-hitting purchasers, lithium prices have started to rise at a fast pace.

Several months ago, Chile’s second-largest lithium producer, Albemarle Corp. (NYSE:ALB), warned that global supplies of lithium were on course for a major shortfall in a few years’ time if prices fail to reflect the costs of funding massive expansions amid the EV boom. Specifically, ALB highlighted the chasm between discount-hunting EV manufacturers and lithium producers who were unable to meet growing demand at persistently low prices. But maybe Eric Norris, operations manager for Albemarle’s lithium business, rushed his fences: Lithium carbonate prices have nearly tripled after sinking to multi-year lows of $ 29,800 per ton in July 2020. Lithium carbonate is a critical ingredient in the manufacture of Lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles. 

And now another giant lithium producer is dancing to the same tune.
Also on rt.com Russian nuclear giant Rosatom eyes 10% of lithium market by 2030
Jiangxi Ganfeng Lithium, the world’s largest lithium mining company with a market capitalization of $ 19 billion, says that lithium prices will continue to rally as lithium production struggles to keep up with the massive demand for EVs. The Chinese company has some decent credibility–after all, it counts leading EV makers such as Tesla Inc. (NASDAQ:TSLA) and BMW (OTCPK:BMWYY) among its customers.

Ganfeng Lithium reported net income of 1.025-billion yuan ($ 156-million) in 2020, a huge improvement on 2019 partly due to gains on the fair value of financial assets such as equities but also due to strong demand for battery-grade lithium.

Mega rally

Investors started pouring into lithium years ago, anticipating the very same supply crunch that Ganfeng Lithium and Albemarle are warning is now looming. They jumped the gun then, partly out of poorly timed over-enthusiasm, and partly because the logic ran like this: Any new lithium mines that could contribute to the EV battery onslaught would take years to bring online, from scratch–so best to get started in advance. 

Now, with the EV boom squarely in the front view mirror, and with battery gigafactories promising to be heavy-hitting purchasers, we can finally see the much-anticipated supply crunch forming. 

Battery-grade lithium carbonate prices started to buck a three-year downturn during the second half of 2020 thanks to robust EV demand roared back from the coronavirus. Lithium carbonate prices have gained 67% so far in 2021 and 224% in the past 12 months.

That’s mainly thanks to the postponement of lithium project expansions in South America–due to previous demand forecasts as well as the impact of the pandemic. This is expected to slow down the short-term supply of the lithium compound and improve pricing, according to Ganfeng.

Ganfeng expects its massive Cauchari-Olaroz lithium salt lake project in Argentina to produce 40,000 tons per year of lithium carbonate when it comes online in the first half of 2022.

Ganseng current boasts an annual capacity of just over 120,000 tons.

Looking further ahead, the company hopes to establish a lithium salt capacity of at least 600,000 tons of lithium carbonate equivalent (LCE) annually, good for a 400% increase.

That alone should give you an idea of how bullish these companies are on lithium, thanks to the global EV and electrification drive.

Commodity rally

But lithium producers such as Ganfeng, Albermale and Sociedad Química y Minera de Chile S.A. (NYSE:SQM) can also thank another potent force working in their favor–a global commodity bull market.

Bloomberg Commodity Index

A cross-section of Wall Street luminaries from Pimco to Point 72 have predicted a broad commodity rally thanks to the so-called reflation trade. Indeed, Wall Street is predicting a new commodity bull market that will rival the oil price spikes of the 1970s or the China-driven boom of the 2000s. Market experts, including Goldman Sachs, believe the commodity boom could rival the last “supercycle” in the early 2000s that powered emerging BRIC economies (Brazil, Russia, India, and China).

Iron ore and copper prices are already trading at multi-year highs, while global oil prices have rebounded strongly from historical lows.

Lithium, oil, and copper are expected to be among the biggest beneficiaries of the new commodity bull market.

This article was originally published on Oilprice.com

RT