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Insights from Graphite+Anodes and Cathodes 2018

Posted by: Keirissa Lawson

February 19, 2019

Dr Mark Cookseyby Mark Cooksey

How growing battery demand is influencing the future of mineral processing

In October 2018, I was fortunate to attend the Graphite+Anodes 2018 and Cathodes 2018 conferences in Newport Beach, California.

Across both events, the message was consistent: we are seeing a growing demand for batteries that, thanks particularly to the rising prevalence of electric vehicles, is set to continue for years – if not decades – to come.

This demand growth presents a significant opportunity for the minerals industry, but also marks a change in the way it operates and shifts the focus of production towards minerals and metals of particular product quality.

Your operation may now be in a position to take advantage of the increased demand by exploring production of battery materials – but should you invest in this opportunity, and how easy is it to capitalise on it?

Here, I outline 3 key insights I developed from the Graphite+Anodes and Cathodes conferences, which will help to clarify the complexities of the market and the implications of pursuing, or not pursuing, the arising opportunities.

Entering the battery market: What you need to know

1. The changes and demand within the battery market are providing lucrative opportunities for mineral processing operations

Solar panels and wind turbines during sunrise
Solar panels and wind turbines during sunrise

The chance to exploit new deposits, increase production and tailor products for batteries is an exciting prospect, allowing your operation to enter new markets and capture new profit flows. The expected long period of growth and ongoing need for these materials could provide a return on investment for years to come.

Due to this growing and ongoing demand, there are even predictions of a new era of renewable energy ‘superpowers’, made up of nations that control the materials needed for wind, solar and batteries – energy resources that will be in increasingly high demand into the future.

 2. The requirements for battery materials are complex

Many companies are already capitalising on increased battery demand by searching for new deposits and increasing production. But doing so without understanding the requirements of the battery market can ultimately lead to a failed venture.

While the demand for Li (carbonate and hydroxide), graphite, Ni and Co are likely to grow significantly, the high product requirements of battery materials present significant challenges to those without sufficient knowledge.

The nature of mineral deposits can vary significantly, and the levels and types of impurities present can directly affect anode and cathode performance.

There are many different battery chemistries that are constantly evolving, and an enormous number of existing and potential applications. Hence battery material specifications are typically strict, specific for an application, and likely to change over time. This means that there is no guarantee that a particular mineral deposit will provide materials suitable for use in the battery market.

Attempting to produce an in-demand mineral for the battery market without first understanding specific product requirements, characterising the deposit and tailoring the production process strongly increases the risk of a wasted investment. Equally, ignoring these opportunities can also result in a large reduction in potential value.

3. Mineral processing operations need assistance in determining their limits and capabilities for providing to the battery market

Picture of an electric vehicle sign painted on roadThe knowledge and expertise needed to successfully venture into battery material production is much broader than traditionally required by mineral processing operations.

For example, there are typically not ‘standard’ grades of battery materials, so you need knowledge of battery requirements, chemistries and performance. This knowledge often does not exist within mineral processing operations, hence the need to seek external assistance.

Additionally, while it is widely accepted that the demand is real, the exact growth rate is unknown, meaning it will be difficult to determine the demand for the chemistry you can supply without further insight into the market.

How do these changes affect your operation?

The opportunity to embrace the demand growth is appealing to many operations, and to keep yours competitive, investigating your capacity to delve into the market is in your best interest.

Engaging advice on the battery market is key, but more importantly is seeking advice from experts through the entire battery value chain, from characterisation of mineral deposits through to battery manufacture. This approach gives your operation the best opportunity to take advantage of the growing battery market demand.

CSIRO offers industry expertise and process development

CSIRO provides expertise across both mineral processing and the battery value chain – from mineral deposits to battery performance – and is one of the few organisations to hold such a breadth of knowledge.

For example, through work at both laboratory and pilot scale, we are helping BHP Nickel West in their objective to supply ultra-pure nickel sulphate into the battery market.

Our extensive testing and development capabilities allow us to:

  • characterise your deposit, to understand what impurities are present and the challenges they may present
  • develop and evaluate process to remove these impurities, including at pilot scale, and
  • evaluate the performance of batteries containing your materials.

At CSIRO, we focus on process solutions through innovation, helping you to reduce the risks and attract new investment for battery metal projects to ensure competitive and sustained production.

Contact our Mineral Resources Optimisation team on +61 3 9545 8865 or email me, Mark.Cooksey@csiro.au, to talk about how you can prepare for the future.

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