Australian news, and some related international items

Lithium for renewable energy technologies – a Covid recovery way for Australia

How Australia’s ‘white gold’ could power the global electric vehicle revolution

Miners and environmentalists have reached an uneasy truce over lithium – both agree Australia should be mining more of this key ingredient in renewable energy batteries, by Max Opray

”……….On the one side, environmentalists are engaging with a resources sector they distrust to nudge it towards lithium, an element which is used in batteries for electric vehicles and renewable energy storage systems due to its remarkably high energy density.

On the other, miners like Brown are suppressing scepticism of green causes to carve out a future in a world aiming to divest itself of fossil fuels.

Brown joined Altura Mining in 2009, and set about helping the small coal miner diversify into other resources as a way of hedging against headwinds facing the fossil fuel.

Lithium, hyped as the “white gold” of the 21st century, seemed a promising investment. But securing investors for Altura’s exploration tenements in the remote ochre deserts of the Pilbara proved challenging……..

Despite the urgency of the climate crisis, the attachment to coal runs deep for Australians like Brown, and leaving it behind wasn’t easy. ……..

The ‘white gold’ rush

Australia leads the world in lithium production and possesses an estimated 6.3m tons of lithium reserves.

The metal is fast becoming a geopolitical bargaining chip, as China, the US and other major powers jostle to secure access to an element expected to surge in demand as the global economy rapidly ramps up production of electric vehicles and renewable energy storage systems, not to mention lithium-ion mobile phone batteries.

The most common form of extraction in Australia is by crushing a hard rock called spodumene, and from that extracting lithium concentrate using a separation method that Brown says is similar to some coal processing systems.

Harry Fisher, senior consultant at business intelligence company CRU Group, believes the economic recovery from Covid-19 will be the moment the long-promised lithium rush finally gets underway.

“Governments continue to promote the merits of a ‘green recovery’, with EV subsidies being increased in Germany, France, UK and many others,” he says. “Policy is likely to continue to support demand.”

Australia has no formal green recovery plan, but Fisher suggests that might not matter if the rest of the world does.

Fisher forecasts that demand will grow to 830 kilotonnes by 2025, up from around 330 kilotonnes this year. In particular demand, Fisher says, is the spodumene that Australia specialises in…….

Altura will be a key supplier to Shanshan’s new lithium chemical plant in China, which plans to produce 25,000 tonnes per annum.

The deal came, says Brown, thanks to China’s two-year extension of state subsidies and tax breaks for electric vehicles until the end of 2022.

The subsidies were also cited by Pilbara Minerals, the operator of a neighbouring Pilgangoora lithium mine, as a reason for optimism.

Australia’s major competition in the global market is the “lithium triangle” of Bolivia, Chile and Argentina, which extracts the metal out of the region’s salt lakes……..

Elsa Dominish, research principal at the Institute for Sustainable Futures, said the environmental impact of lithium mining is similar to other forms of hard rock mining.

She says Australia has an opportunity to establish the world’s best practice for lithium mining by monitoring water and energy use, management of waste, and impact on sacred cultural sites.

Dominish emphasises that lithium’s footprint pales in comparison to the impact of coal. “In addition to emissions … coal mining is one of the most damaging forms of mining considering health and environmental impacts, particularly respiratory impacts from exposure to coal dust,” she says…….

When Adam Bandt assumed the Greens leadership in February, he immediately went to work spruiking a Green New Deal.

Bandt had even planned to visit the Greenbushes Lithium Mine in south-west WA, the largest hard rock lithium operation in the world, to sell the message of transitioning coal miners into jobs in new energy metals. The trip was called off due to the Covid-19 crisis.

Miners have long moved to where the resources are, and Queensland and New South Wales coal workers might need to relocate to the Pilbara for new lithium mining gigs. In the case of Greenbushes however, there is a coal mining community right on its doorstep.

Unions and the Western Australian government are pushing for a planned Greenbushes expansion to employ coal workers from the nearby Collie mine and power plant, in a bid to secure a future for them as the local coal industry withers away.

Industry analysts, lithium miners, and green groups also agree on something else: simply digging the lithium out of the ground and exporting it with minimal processing is a wasted opportunity.

According to the Million Jobs Plan report, produced by climate thinktank Beyond Zero Emissions, Australia earns only 0.5% of the value of its exported lithium ore, with the remainder going to overseas companies that further refine it and manufacture lithium-ion batteries.

South Australia, home to Tesla’s Big Battery, is developing battery manufacturing capacity, and BZE argues Western Australia could invest in lithium refinement, battery component manufacture, and recycling, to contribute towards 100,000 new jobs nationally by 2025. The state is already host to several processing facility projects.

Heidi Lee, project lead for the Million Jobs Plan, says the Covid-19 shutdown is a generational opportunity for the Australian government to set signals to unlock investment, such as a new renewable energy target………..

The coronavirus pandemic has devastated the economy but also presented a unique opportunity: to invest in climate action that creates jobs and stimulates investment, before it’s too late. The Green Recovery features talk to people on the frontline of Australia’s potential green recovery.

September 10, 2020 - Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, business

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