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Post: Rosatom wants to mine lithium in Bolivia


Bolivia plans to announce a number of foreign partners to develop its lithium reserves shortly. It was previously assumed that the decision would be announced on June 15, but it was delayed for the second time. The attention of interested observers is focused on this issue: the demand for lithium is growing rapidly, and the reserves in this country are among the largest on the planet.

Bolivia is part of the so-called lithium triangle on the border between Bolivia, Chile and Argentina. Recall that mining in South America is made from underground brines containing lithium. But if the last two countries produce about a third of global lithium consumption, production volumes in Bolivia are still symbolic. This is partly due to the previous unsuccessful attempt to develop their own production, relying solely on their own strength. This is partly because the lithium-containing Bolivian brines contain high levels of magnesium, making it difficult to extract the lithium itself.

However, optimists are already calling Bolivia the new “lithium Saudi Arabia”. However, in view of the foregoing, it would be more accurate to call Bolivia “lithium Venezuela”, given that it is difficult to extract lithium here, as is the case with the extraction of high-viscosity oil in Venezuela, despite its volumes. such oils are very large.

It is interesting: if you look at the data of the BP statistics collection, we will never see Bolivia in the countries with the largest lithium reserves, but Portugal, for example, is singled out with only 0.3 percent reserve. of the world. Of course, certain subjectivity has been encountered before in the assessments in this review, but it is possible that such an approach is precisely attributed to the difficulties in lithium mining. Ironically, Venezuelan oil is fully reflected in these statistics – as a result, black gold reserves in this country, according to BP, are likely larger than in Saudi Arabia, unlike reserves. Your kingdom will never be fully mined.

But back to lithium and Bolivia. The issue of foreign firm acceptance has several dimensions. Several factors are important here: the environment, the economy and politics, local residents react sharply to which companies and under what conditions they participate in the project. Equally important, companies should offer their own efficient, non-traditional lithium recovery methods.

Which companies apply to participate in production? Initially, there were eight on the list. Two participants have already been excluded, these are Argentine Tecpetrol and the American startup EnergyX, which fought for the right to mine Bolivian lithium in December. material. But it didn’t work.

Total currently under development allegation six companies, none of which had previously been involved in the production of lithium in non-experimental, industrial volumes. That’s another American startup, Lilac Solution (which, by the way, BMW and Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures have invested in), a major Chinese battery manufacturer CATL, and three other Chinese companies. And also – most important to us – the Uranium One of Rosatom. As long as the intrigue continues.

As can be seen from the above, the range of companies dealing with lithium mining is very diverse. Meanwhile, although the lithium market may seem like an oligopoly, five companies account for three-quarters of the world’s lithium production. These are the American Albermarle and Liven (although they do release lithium in other countries), Chilean SQM, Chinese Ganfeng and Tianqi.

However, trends can be identified. Initially, lithium mining was mainly carried out by companies from the mining and production of various chemical compounds, of which lithium occupied and occupied its share. Now there are companies that only invest in lithium mining. In addition, Livent is the lithium division of the chemical FMC, which is separated into a separate company.

In addition, lithium-related companies are beginning to be interested in vertical integration, that is, participation in the whole chain. And not only from the point of view of lithium miners, but also from the point of view of consumers due to the high prices of this product. The biggest consumer here is electric vehicle manufacturers. As a result, there is every reason to believe that at least some manufacturers of electric vehicles and (or) batteries are planning to gradually enter the lithium market and create vertically integrated holdings based on the principle of “mining and processing of lithium – battery production”. – direct production of electric vehicles.” This makes sense, because in a traditional car, the competencies are also in the field of complex mechanical parts, then in an electric car everything is much simpler as it is driven by an electric motor. But at the same time, the battery is a significant part of the cost. The above example of CATL’s interest in Bolivian production is an example.

And Chinese automaker BYD, which focuses on the development of the electric vehicle industry thinker Purchase of lithium deposits in Africa. At the same time, the company already received Lithium mining contract in Chile.

Another Chinese electric vehicle manufacturer, Nio, announced about creating battery packs of our own design to increase profitability and compete successfully with other companies.

Recall that now large batteries for electric vehicles consist of a series of small blocks, usually of the 18650 type. It is familiar to fans of powerful LED lights, which are often equipped with one or two of these batteries. Similar batteries are also found in many laptops and other home appliances.

Meanwhile, EV manufacturers can buy batteries from the market, just as Tesla buys batteries from Panasonic. Also, the two companies have a joint venture to manufacture lithium-ion storage devices in the US. Now the original small batteries have other sizes, but the essence remains the same. And in April, Elon Musk also admitted that Tesla should start mining lithium himself.

Accordingly, Rosatom finds itself in the trend we described above: vertical integration is being created, from lithium mining to battery production. After all, Rosatom plans to establish its own giga factory for the production of lithium-ion batteries: by 2024, a production plant with a capacity of 4 GWh per year will open in the Kaliningrad region. That’s a pretty good amount by world standards, about 0.5 percent of the expected global battery production up to then. Considering that the battery sector is not a key sector in the entire energy sector for our country, it is not that little.

Whatever the decision in Bolivia, Russia also has backup options for home production. First, Rosatom and Norilsk Nickel plan to jointly extract lithium from ores in the Murmansk region, and preliminary estimates of capital costs of 90 billion rubles have already been made in SPIEF. Secondly, there are projects using related brine containing lithium in oil and gas production, these options are being discussed for production in the Irkutsk region with Gazprom and the Irkutsk Oil Company.

Now our country imports lithium compounds and is engaged in bringing this imported raw material to the required purity for batteries. Recall that lithium prices have increased tenfold in a few years. It is believed that they will decrease somewhat, but they will not return to their former values. Even if the costs are slightly higher than in other lithium mining countries, the continued rise in global prices will support Russian mining projects.

Source: Ria

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