Liberty One Lithium Corp. is an emerging exploration company focused on the acquisition and development of high grade lithium brine deposits. The Company believes that global resources are the key to a robust energy strategy to protect economic stability worldwide.
Lithium accounts for only about 5% of the materials in some car batteries, and for less than 10% of their cost. But the element is a vital component of batteries that power everything from cars to smartphones, laptops and power tools. With demand for such high-density energy storage set to surge as vehicles become greener and electricity becomes cleaner, Goldman Sachs recently called lithium “the new gasoline”.
That has made it the world’s hottest commodity. The price of battery grade 99%-pure lithium carbonate imported to China escalated from around US$7,000/tonne in mid-2015 to over well over US$20,000/tonne as recently as June, 2016.
The rise mostly reflected concerns about the future liquidity of China’s spot market. China gets much lithium from spodumene rock in Australia, an alternative to South American brine. Albermarle, an American miner, and Tianqi, its Chinese joint-venture partner, plan to use spodumene from a big Australian mine to process more battery-grade lithium carbonate and hydroxide. That will mean less ore available on the spot market in China.
The current industry is concentrated, which adds concerns. Last year Albermarle, the world’s biggest lithium producer, bought Rockwood, owner of Chile’s second-biggest lithium deposit. It and three other companies—SQM, FMC of America and Tianqi—account for most of the world supply of lithium salts, according to Citigroup. What is more, a big lithium-brine project in Argentina, run by a joint venture of Orocobre, an Australian miner, and Toyota, Japan’s largest carmaker, is behind schedule. Though the Earth contains plenty of lithium, extracting it can be costly and time-consuming, so higher prices may not automatically stimulate a surge in supply.
Demand is also on the upturn. At the moment, the main lithium-ion battery-makers are Samsung and LG of South Korea, Panasonic and Sony of Japan, and ATL of Hong Kong. But China also has many battery-makers. Its government is stepping up the promotion of lithium-ion batteries and electric vehicles, with the biggest emphasis on buses. Sales of “new energy” vehicles in China almost tripled in the first ten months of 2015 compared with the same period in 2014, to 171,000.
Additionally, Tesla Motors, is building its “Gigafactory” in Nevada, which it has stated it hopes to supply lithium-ion batteries for 500,000 cars a year within five years. J.B. Straubel, Tesla’s chief technical officer, says the firm wants to secure supplies of many battery materials, not just lithium. “There’s so much hype in the lithium market right now…people look at it as this magical element,” he says. Nonetheless, in August Bacanora, a Canadian firm, said it had signed a conditional agreement to supply Tesla with lithium hydroxide from a mine that it plans to develop in northern Mexico. Bacanora’s shares jumped on the news—though analysts noted that shipping fine white powder across the United States border would need careful handling.
Bigger carmakers also have a growing appetite for lithium. In a recent shift, Toyota has begun offering lithium-ion batteries instead of heavier nickel-metal hydride ones in its Prius hybrid. Tougher emissions standards in Europe and America are likely to boost carmakers’ need for lithium.
Another big source of demand may be for electricity storage. The holy grail of renewable electricity is batteries cheap and capacious enough to overcome the intermittency of solar and wind power—for example, to store enough power from solar panels to keep the lights on all night. Tesla recently announced it will start installing “Powerwall” battery packs in American and Australian homes to store solar energy, at a cost of $3,000. Enel, an Italian utility, is launching similar storage products this year in South Africa, where homes and businesses suffer frequent black-outs.
Power utilities will increasingly use giant battery packs, charging them at times of low demand and tapping them to provide short bursts of electricity at peak times, an alternative to building a fossil-fuel plant that will sit idle the rest of the time. AES Energy Storage, a big provider of energy storage, won a contract in 2014 to provide a “peaker plant” in Southern California that will provide up to 100 megawatts (MW) of power into the grid at moments of maximum demand. In December, the firm agreed to buy, over several years, enough lithium-ion batteries from LG to provide ten times this level of peak power—that is, 1 gigawatt, or more than the output of an entire, typical-size coal-fired power station. “We’re hybridising the power grid,” says John Zahurancik, its boss.
In summary, a number of market forces are at work that all link to lithium as an in-demand metal for the foreseeable future. Liberty One Lithium Corp. sees it as an opportunity to participate in the diversification and continued growth (and protection) of a robust global energy policy.
Liberty One aims to aid a strategic policy that assures access to lithium, for a better future for everyone.
With edited notes from “An increasingly precious metal” – The Economist, (2016)