Lithium From A Canadian Perspective

By Bill Moore

Posted: 28 Sep 2009

First this caveat: I arrived in Montreal a hour after the pre-conference workshop started, so by the time I got to the Hyatt downtown, check in, unloaded my gear in the room and then found my way to the conference registration area, the workshop was well underway -- and packed to the gills. I got in on the last half of a presentation on lithium availability by Kerry Knoll with Canadian Lithium Corporation.

Here's some of what I learned.

According to Knoll, the lithium industry has been gradually expanding production, year-over-year, at a rate of seven percent, which has exactly kept pace with demand. That's the good news. He expects that demand, however, will begin in track upwards at a rate of 15 percent annually, which could begin to cause production constraints in the latter half of the next decade. A lot depends on how much lithium carbonate, the raw, unrefined feed stock from pure lithium is produced, is required per vehicle, a figure that ranges from a low of 5 kg upwards of 40 kg. It also depends on the market for those PHEVs, HEVs and Battery Electric Cars or BEVs.

Ramping up to meet demand doesn't happen overnight, either. He explained that for one producer in Chile who is planning to expand production from 22,000 tons annually to 47,000 tons (I am working from memory here, so please bear with me) of lithium carbonate will take 12 years. His own firm, Canadian Lithium Corporation began the process or reopening a previously closed mine north of Montreal at Val D'Or and it will take five years, with the facility coming online in 2013.

He also pointed out that the price of lithium can spike, just as had molybdenum, which when faced with similar production constraints caused by structural shifts in the market went from the $1-3 per pound range to $35/lbs. in 2004. It has since settled back into the $4 range, briefly hitting $6 when a mine in China closed. He expects lithium to follow a similar roller coaster trajectory.

Others presenting at the workshop were E-One Moli Batteries, eVionyx, Inc, Electrovaya, HydroQuebec's Institut de Recherche, Canadian Light Source, Inc., and Zenn Motor Company.

Tomorrow the conference kicks off with the opening plenary at which I give the keynote address, followed by multiple break-out sessions on batteries, grid integration, smart EV charging and much more. I'll try to report on as much as I can. The sessions continue into Wednesday with the closing speech by "Who Killed the Electric Car?" celeb and long-time friend, Chelsea Sexton.

I catch a flight home Wednesday morning, so I'll have to cram in as much as I can tomorrow.

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