Until your mobile phone runs flat, you probably don’t think about the battery technology inside.
So what is powering your phone, your laptop, your tablet? It’s most likely a lithium ion battery.
Recharging your batteries
Lithium ion batteries are rechargeable, reliable and generally lighter than other rechargeable batteries.
In recent years, our demand for personal electronics has also driven the demand for lithium. But it’s the development of low emission technologies, like electric vehicles and renewable energy, that’s really supercharging the market’s appetite for lithium commodities, worldwide.
Australia is the world’s largest producer of lithium. That means we have an opportunity to be at the forefront of lithium production and to value-add across the mineral processing chain.
From the stars to your smartphone
Lithium is the third element in the periodic table. It’s also the lightest metal. In nature, lithium never exits in pure form. Instead, it forms compounds which are found in nearly all igneous rocks and in mineral springs.
Where does it come from? Its origin goes back to the beginning of time (cue: dramatic classical music). Lithium was created in the Big Bang, along with hydrogen and helium. Stars are actually the super-factories of lithium, spreading the metal through the universe with every supernova.
And this metal … well, it continues to bang! Because lithium is highly reactive. It’s a favourite ingredient in fireworks, exploding with a flare of crimson when ignited.
Rock out: getting lithium from hard rock deposits
Australia’s lithium resources are locked in hard rock deposits, such as highly crystallised igneous rock called pegmatites.
Once they’re found, pegmatite deposits can be mined. Then ore is then processed: the rock is crushed to concentrate the lithium-bearing ore, called spodumene. Then it’s sold on overseas, for further processing.
Given the increasing value of lithium, Australia can seize the opportunity to refine and add value to our lithium resources.
Putting the (research) pedal to the (lithium) metal
Given the importance of lithium as a global commodity, we’ve been researching all things lithium. We’ve been working on improving the technologies and techniques for mineral exploration, and improving the production of lithium metal.
We’re working on discovering new lithium and critical metal deposits. We want to understand the metal-rich mineral systems in pegmatite fields, and identifying lithium-rich deposits.
But we’re not just exploring new deposits. We’re also investigating ways to minimise mining impacts and helping producers make more efficient mining and processing decisions.
Given next-generation batteries will likely require significant quantities of lithium metal, our innovations in metal production are also targeted towards lithium production. We’re developing a new extraction process, called LithSonic, that can be cleaner, more efficient, and lower-cost than the existing electrolysis process. Using supersonic flow, similar to the flow through a rocket engine, LithSonic can produce lithium metal powder directly by rapid cooling lithium vapour.
24th July 2019 at 9:11 am
Where we are lagging is that our current mines producing lithium produce large amounts of waste or tailings and they all have problems with both tailings and process water dams leaking nasties to the environment. We can do it better and it won’t cost that much.
23rd July 2019 at 2:19 pm
LIBs entering landfill will be banned soon by new legislation and LIB recycling processes are being developed also in Oz, i.e. at CSIRO.
22nd July 2019 at 2:28 pm
I can’t buy lithium battery-operated camera products from the US, they won’t ship them.