Vogon Today

Selected News from the Galaxy


Graphite, lithium, nickel and cobalt needed for electric cars. Report

Graphite, lithium, nickel and cobalt needed for electric cars. Report

At this rate, according to a study, by 2035 it will be necessary to open at least 384 extraction complexes for graphite, lithium, nickel and cobalt to meet the growing demand of the automotive market. The mines, however, are highly polluting: it is urgent to intervene with serious policies of recycling of materials and with new hi-tech batteries

In the imagination of each of us, there is nothing less ecological than quarries and mines, since they permanently disfigure entire ecosystems. Very often, moreover, the extracted materials, if waste, are released into the environment, contaminating the air and nearby water sources, without precise studies on their dangerousness. Well, if we want to continue along the path of converting endothermic engines to electric ones, to eliminate traffic emissions, it is better to know that almost 400 new mines will be needed, which cannot even be spread over the entire earth's surface, since they will have to focus only on the richest sites. It is of course not the only side effect of the ecological transition of the means, but the risk of transforming the planet into a Swiss cheese is present.


This was supported by the latest study by the London-based research firm Benchmark Mineral Intelligence , also known as Benchmark Minerals, founded by Simon Moores in 2014. It is an IOSCO regulated price reporting agency that carries out studies on the lithium-ion battery supply chain for the electric vehicle supply chain. According to the report, nearly 400 new mining sites will be needed to meet a growing demand for EV batteries, driven by regulations that could be enacted in Europe and the US to ban endothermic engines.


In particular, it is estimated that, within just 12 years, there will be a need to start at least 384 extraction complexes for graphite, lithium, nickel and cobalt. The gap closes optimistically at 336 assuming that a serious recycling campaign for the various materials can be implemented. Going into detail, for natural graphite, now extracted in over 70 sites mostly in China and Africa, it will be necessary to open a hundred new mines, 97 to be precise, according to the scenario that assumes an average extraction capacity of 56,000. tons per year and a zero contribution from recycling activities. 54 plants of 57,000 tons each will be needed for the production of synthetic graphite. This is because the anodes of the batteries are made with a mixture of the two substances.


This scenario, of course, could be disavowed by technological progress. The startup Our Next Energy , based in Michigan, has in fact just presented a new battery pack without anodes designed to reduce the cost of cells by up to 50% capable, it is claimed, of guaranteeing a driving range of up to 965 km. By eliminating the anode in these cells, the American company claims it can reduce the cost of cells in mass production by $ 50 per kilowatt hour, a significant saving compared to current costs, estimated at between $ 100 and $ 110 per kWh.

Most importantly, if that model were to catch on, it would reduce the percentage of minerals needed to develop EV battery packs. While standard cells use lithium iron phosphate cathodes and relatively conventional graphite anodes, developing cells are devoid of anodes, which eliminates the use of graphite and anode manufacturing equipment. The cathodes are designed to use a unique blend of lithium and manganese and a much lower percentage of nickel, eliminating cobalt.

The young company hopes to start producing its pack of new Gemini batteries in a new 20 gigawatt-hour US plant in 2026, in time, in short, to disavow the predictions of the London report. Other battery companies are developing anode-free designs, but ONE's Gemini battery appears to be unique in that it uses cells with two different chemistries, one for daily driving and the other for extending range on longer journeys. Hence the name.


Continuing with the report, it is estimated that 74 new lithium mines of 45 thousand tons each will be needed, but with the increase in recycling, 59 could be enough. For nickel, on the other hand, another 72 new excavations of 42,500 tons are estimated. Finally, recycling will have the greatest impact on cobalt extraction: one end of the gap speaks of 62 new sites of 5,000 tons each, the other of 38.

In short, the recovery of rare and finished materials will play a fundamental role in the automotive industry of tomorrow. Especially to buffer the environmental emergency. Just think of what happened in Southern California, in the Mojave National Preserve, where one of the main rare earth mines in the United States of America is located. There the mining activity spilled approximately 2,300 liters of radioactive wastewater and other hazardous waste into the region's desert soil, resulting in contamination by thorium, a radioactive element that is released during extraction and which can have very damaging effects on the surrounding environment. . Despite a $ 1.3 million fine being imposed, the company still obtained another thirty-year concession in 2019 amid protests from environmentalists.

After all, about 80% of the rare earths used in the hi-tech and auto industry of the USA is imported from China, which boasts a production of 120 thousand tons (2018 data), one of the highest in the world ahead of Australia ( 20 thousand tons) and the United States, in fact (15 thousand tons). However, the Biden administration intends to become increasingly independent from the Dragon, also because the current geopolitical scenario seems to lead to scenarios in which China and the US will be on opposing sides, perhaps not only on a commercial level. But at what price for the environment?

This is a machine translation from Italian language of a post published on Start Magazine at the URL https://www.startmag.it/smartcity/ecco-grafite-litio-nickel-e-cobalto-necessari-per-le-auto-elettriche/ on Sun, 02 Oct 2022 05:29:13 +0000.