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With Battery Production Exploding, Lithium Is Becoming the ‘New Gasoline’

The Economist: An Increasingly Precious Metal

Lithium accounts for only about 5% of the materials in some car batteries, and for less than 10% of their cost. Worldwide sales of lithium salts are only about $1 billion a year.

But the element is a vital component of batteries that power everything from cars to smartphones, laptops and power tools. With demand for such high-density energy storage set to surge as vehicles become greener and electricity becomes cleaner, Goldman Sachs, an investment bank, calls lithium “the new gasoline.”

The Independent: UK Renewables Industry Is About to Fall Off a Cliff

Britain’s renewable energy industry is about to “fall off a cliff” just at the point it would come into its own, analysis for The Independent reveals.

The dour forecast comes as the industry celebrated a record-breaking year in 2015, with billions of pounds poured into solar and wind energy and more homes powered by nature than ever before.

But experts have warned this is all about to grind to a halt as the Government abandons its commitment to green energy and instead invests in fracking and nuclear power.

Bloomberg: The North Dakota Crude Oil That’s Worth Almost Nothing

Oil is so plentiful and cheap in the U.S. that at least one buyer says it would pay almost nothing to take a certain type of low-quality crude.

Flint Hills Resources LLC, the refining arm of billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch’s industrial empire, said it offered to pay $1.50 a barrel Friday for North Dakota Sour, a high-sulfur grade of crude, according to a corrected list of prices posted on its website Monday. It had previously posted a price of -$0.50. The crude is down from $13.50 a barrel a year ago and $47.60 in January 2014.

Forbes: China Plans a Floating Nuclear Power Plant

China is working on a floating nuclear power plant that could sail to specific sites and anchor offshore to produce power for various needs.

China General Nuclear expects to complete construction of this small modular offshore multi-purpose reactor by 2020, and demonstrate its utility for a variety of purposes. Construction of the first floating reactor is expected to start next year with electricity generation to begin in 2020.

PV-Tech: Abu Dhabi Bank Makes US$10bn Renewables Pledge

The National Bank of Abu Dhabi has made a US$10 billion, 10-year pledge to finance renewable energy and other sustainable business activities.

The bank said it would lend, invest and facilitate US$10 billion of financing in environmentally sustainable projects in the so-called West-East corridor, which stretches from Africa, through the Middle East to Asia.

Last year the bank published a report with Cambridge University and consultancy PwC, ‘Financing the Future of Energy’, which identified a massive US$48 trillion funding gap over the next 20 years to meet global energy demand. Renewables accounts for over half of this figure, the report said.

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Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jan 20, 2016 4:19 pm GMT

Herman, a couple of glaring errors in your report:

  1. Where did you get the idea batteries “power everything from cars to smartphones, laptops and power tools”? Batteries “power” exactly nothing. Never have. What they do is store energy generated from a mix of sources, with (in the U.S.) well over half coming from burning coal and natural gas. And make it 5-10% dirtier, due to resistance losses.
  2. Your source who claims battery development is “about to grind to a halt as the [British] Government abandons its commitment to green energy and instead invests in fracking and nuclear power” might be an “expert” at plumbing repair or poker, but would be better described as an energy imbecile. Because utility renewables depend on fossil fuels to remain viable, and require at least 50 times as much land area to generate the same amount of energy, nuclear is incalculably greener. About as green as it gets.

Batteries will be increasingly important for storing clean nuclear electricity for portable applications like electric vehicles. They work just as well for storing expensive, intermittent solar and wind electricity – but why bother?

Josh Nilsen's picture
Josh Nilsen on Jan 21, 2016 1:16 am GMT

Please don’t insult lithium by comparing it to gasoline.

Renewable energy technology and thier associated commodities are *highly* reclycable.  This invalidates almost all ‘waste’.

If fossil fuels could be efficiently recycled we wouldn’t be talking about this right now.

Josh Nilsen's picture
Josh Nilsen on Jan 21, 2016 1:23 am GMT

Nukes are not greener than solar PV Bob, try again.

I never heard of a solar panel melting down and dumping radiation on someone.  I also recall nukes needing a mined resource to operate, whereas sunlight is free.

Here’s how the utility grid works now.  All *fuel free* inputs get used first, then the fossil fuels act as a battery.

If we’re playing dirty, let’s talk about lifetime subsidies for nukes vs. renewables.  I know you don’t want to talk about that.

 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jan 21, 2016 2:52 pm GMT

Josh, I don’t believe in playing dirty. Just the truth.

With that in mind, can you explain to me how “the fossil fuels” act as a battery to store your clean energy? This I must hear.

Joris van Dorp's picture
Joris van Dorp on Jan 21, 2016 9:14 am GMT

Interesting article.

Of course, non-nuclear so-called ‘renewable’ solutions to the energy/climate nexus depend on a lot more ‘fuels’ than just lithium. For an insightful take on the material consumption of renewable energy technologies, check out this article by J.M. Korhonen:

“It is well known that there is no such thing as a free lunch. However, it is somewhat less known that there is no such thing as free energy, either.

Despite all the hoopla about new renewable energy sources being “free” and “practically unlimited” in a sense that no one owns the Sun nor the wind, the fact remains that in order to harness these energies, we need an immense construction effort. This, unfortunately, is neither free nor unrestricted in the material sense. As the above graph taken from a recentstudy commentary by Vidal, Goffé & Arndt in Nature Geoscience (2013) shows, projected renewable energy deployments would very soon outstrip the current global production of several key materials. By the author’s estimates, if we are to follow the lead of renewables only-advocates, renewable energy projects would consume the entire annual copper, concrete and steel production by 2035 at the latest, annihilate aluminum by around 2030, and gobble up all the glass before 2020.

If we compare renewable energies to that other low-carbon alternative, nuclear power, per energy unit produced, wind and solar electricity production requires

16-148 times more concrete

57-661 times more steel

43-819 times more aluminum

16-2286 times more copper

4000-73600 times more glass.

(The figures assume a lifetime of 20-30 years for renewables and 60 years for nuclear, and the following capacity factors: wind 0.3, solar PV 0.15, CSP 0.4, nuclear 0.8.)

In a very real sense, these materials can be thought of as the “fuels” or “consumables” of renewables. Without doubt, many of these materials can be recycled to an extent, but the required volumes inevitably mean that any substantial increases in renewable energy generation require corresponding increases in virgin production. Furthermore, not everything can be or will be recovered, and in any case, building the infrastructure for renewable energy generation will sequester huge amounts of steel, aluminum and copper over the lifespan of the generators.”

http://jmkorhonen.net/2013/11/29/graphic-of-the-week-the-hidden-fuels-of-renewable-energy/

Joris van Dorp's picture
Joris van Dorp on Jan 21, 2016 9:25 am GMT

I never heard of a solar panel melting down and dumping radiation on someone.”

Solar panels (particulary the cheap kind) involve the dumping of radiation on poor people in countries far, far away having no environmental protection laws.

http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20150402-the-worst-place-on-earth

This is why the cost of renewable energy has fallen so much in recent years. The solar and wind industry has moved their production to countries where toxic waste can be freely dumped in the environment. This kind of cost cutting means that solar and wind energy merely requires huge subsidies today, as opposed to monstrous subsidies ten years ago.

Nuclear power does not require any subsidies. Instead, nuclear power yields tax revenues. Antinuclear politicians like to ratchet nuclear taxes in order to destroy nuclear power plants. They do this while the public has been brainwashed into thinking that nuclear power is subsidised.

http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/NP-Court-leaves-Swedish-nuclear-tax-unchanged-1101501.html

Hops Gegangen's picture
Hops Gegangen on Jan 21, 2016 12:23 pm GMT

 

Note that SolarCity is building a factory in Buffalo NY to churn out 1GW of solar panels at year at 22% efficiency. I don’t think they’ll be dumping toxic waste in NY.

Also, with the new efficiency of 22%, a given amount of material will go further than ever, and they have reduced the amount of rare materials required in order to bring down the cost.

Meanwhile, in various labs, progress is being made on catalysts to generate hydrogen from water and sunlight with cheap materials. Solar will likely not forever be just about panels.

And don’t forget, we are trying to solve a global problem here, and there are many places in the world that lack the infrastructure — especially security — for nuclear facilities. Just look at the fuss over Iran.

And course, everything varies by geography. Saudi Arabia is looking a build out of solar in part to burn less oil for power generation and desalination. 

I live in a very cloudy region, and solar intermittency is measured in weeks, not hours. In the distance I can see the steam from a nuclear plant. We have water out the wazoo, so boiling it away is not an issue. I don’t worry about radiation leaks.. Nor does anyone here protest its existence.

 

Joris van Dorp's picture
Joris van Dorp on Jan 21, 2016 12:58 pm GMT

Good points.

Of course, it’s less than useful to compare solar and nuclear. Solar is a (fossil) fuel saving technology, while nuclear is a power generation technology. Apples and oranges. It doesn’t matter how clean or cheap the  solar PV industry becomes: since solar can’t work without sunshine, it can’t solve fossil fuel dependence. Nuclear can, and its (still) cleaner and cheaper than solar too.

https://www.iaea.org/sites/default/files/styles/news_story_photo_new__16x9ratio_653width_/public/ghg.jpg?itok=Gdew4_W1

Full Q&A here:

https://www.iaea.org/newscenter/news/qa-what%E2%80%99s-next-after-cop21

Hops Gegangen's picture
Hops Gegangen on Jan 21, 2016 2:31 pm GMT

 

I would distinguish betweeen hydrocarbons and fossil fuels. We can get hydrocarbons from biomass and algae, or even synthetically using nuclear power. The U.S. Navy has a program to create jet fuel from water.

One of my wishes would be to take a retired nuclear-powered aircraft carrier and send it out to one of those gyres in the oceans where plastic has accumulated, screen out the plastic, and use the nuclear to turn it back into oil, which gets pumped into a tanker. The technology to use heat to turn plastic into oil already exists.

We might also do the same with algae blooms, perhaps deliberately induced with minerals.

We could take all the otherwise unused oil tankers, install nuclear, and send them out to make oil.

The Navy also has a biofuels program: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-defense-greenfleet-idUSKCN0UY2U4

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jan 21, 2016 2:48 pm GMT

Hops, lots of good ideas here. 

The water to which the U.S. Navy has plentiful access will provide it with hydrogen and oxygen. They’ll need at least one more critical element – carbon – to turn it into any fuel our current generations of jets can use. 

If they get it from plastic, the Navy might be creating a bigger mess than burning the refined naptha-kerosene they use now. Most plastic suitable for fuel generation serves to durably sequester the extracted carbon it contains, and will continue to do so for up to 30,000 years if left to decompose by natural processes. An eyeblink in evolutionary terms, but long enough to get us through our current crisis.

We need to be conscious of both our source of carbon and the energy necessary to synthesize the fuel, or we only increase the fuel’s carbon footprint.

Willem Post's picture
Willem Post on Jan 21, 2016 3:19 pm GMT

Joris,

Folks also talk about electric vehicles being so low in cost per mile. Here is an example:

OWNING AND OPERATING A TESLA VEHICLE

Below is a quick way to determine the cost per mile of owning and operating a TESLA car for 8 years. Assumptions: TESLA, all-electric car; 85 kWh battery; battery warrantee 8 years, unlimited miles; $80,000, new, $15,000 at 8 years; driven 100,000 miles in 8 years; 0.30 kWh/mile; 20% free, on-road charging, 80% at home charging at 0.20 $/kWh.

Annual charging cost = (100,000/8) x 0.3 x (0.2 x 0 + 0.8 x 0.2) = $600, or 4.8 c/mile.

Car cost/mile = (80,000 – 15,000)/100,000 = 65 c/mile.

Energy cost per mile = 69.8 c/mile, with ignored costs at least 95 to 100 c/mile.

Ignored costs: The cost of financing and amortizing, PLUS any costs for O&M of car and at-home charger, PLUS any capacity degradation due to cycling, are ignored. Capacity degradation means it takes more energy to charge and discharge the battery, a shorter range for a given battery discharge, less livelier throttle response during acceleration and uphill driving.

NOTE: Assuming a new owner buys the 8-y-old car for $15,000, he likely would install a new battery for about 85 kWh x $125/kWh = $10,625, plus labor and materials, and disposal of the old battery.

http://www.theenergycollective.com/willem-post/2308156/economics-batteries-stabilizing-and-storage-distribution-grids

 

Hops Gegangen's picture
Hops Gegangen on Jan 21, 2016 3:21 pm GMT

 

Actually, the Navy is getting the carbon from the CO2 dissovled in the sea water. 

 

 

Willem Post's picture
Willem Post on Jan 21, 2016 3:27 pm GMT

Hops,

“Saudi Arabia is looking a build out of solar in part to burn less oil for power generation and desalination”. 

Soon, Saudi Arabia will be contracting for about 8 to 10 nuclear reactors, at about 1000 MW each, at a cost of about $5500/kW, turnkey.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jan 21, 2016 3:31 pm GMT

Hops, I didn’t see that mentioned at the link you provided, do you have a link to it?

After reading the article about biofuels, I’m skeptical. I suspect a “well-to-wheels” analysis of collecting beef fat, for example, then converting it to something that can be burned in a diesel generator would result in more fossil carbon emissions than burning diesel alone.

Willem Post's picture
Willem Post on Jan 21, 2016 3:53 pm GMT

It is worse!!

The capital cost of adding battery systems for stability, and for peaking, filling-in and balancing, to make distribution grids more independent of high voltage grids, would be about 25% of the cost of the PV solar systems, based on current battery system prices/MWh. Batteries are about 50% of the installed battery system capital cost, i.e., battery system cost would decrease a lesser percent than battery cost.

Utility-scale, battery systems, often in temperature-controlled buildings/enclosures, have at least 20% round-trip, energy losses. That means any large percentages of solar and wind energy on the grid, implying fewer fossil plants, would require utility-scale storage to cover intermittency and variability, and the part of their energy that is stored would be reduced by at least 20%.

Fossil, nuclear, hydro, bio, etc., have no such losses.

This article explains all in detail.

http://www.theenergycollective.com/willem-post/2308156/economics-batteries-stabilizing-and-storage-distribution-grids

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jan 21, 2016 4:58 pm GMT

Willem, it seems you’re looking pretty hard for EV costs that just aren’t there. A Tesla Model S sedan is not a vehicle, it’s a luxury vehicle. Financing/amortizing any luxury vehicle will involve similar costs. 

My Nissan Leaf provides a more typical case. O&M costs for my charger, after five years, have been non-existent. O&M costs for two Leafs (actually one and a half, first was totaled in an accident) have been non-existent, unless wiper fluid and putting a quarter in service station air compressors is relevant.

By working top-down to get a per-mile energy cost, you’re making the job more difficult than it needs to be. The Leaf has a 24kWh battery pack. At most, 80% (19kWh) of that gets used on a daily basis, and in realistic terms that means 50 miles on the road – freeways eat up electricity fast. We get the lowest rate for electricity, 15¢/kWh, because the car is charged at night. $.15 x 19 / 50 = $.057/mile. Higher than your figure, probably because we seldom use public charging. 

Adding battery replacement to the per-mile cost is fair for comparison purposes. A new Leaf battery pack is $6,000 incl tax and installation; we’ll probably get 60,000 miles out of our current one. That makes a total of $.16 mile in energy and maintenance costs. About 1/10 of your figure.

Drastically-fewer moving parts pretty much takes maintenance out of the picture, and that alone makes up for all other drawbacks combined for an inter-urban, day-to-day vehicle.

Hops Gegangen's picture
Hops Gegangen on Jan 21, 2016 6:23 pm GMT

 

Google “navy nuclear synthetic fuel” and you’ll find some materials about the nuclear/synfuel aspect.

 This one is really geeky : http://bravenewclimate.com/2013/01/16/zero-emission-synfuel-from-seawater/

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jan 21, 2016 6:23 pm GMT

Willem I agree, and you underscore the critical importance of an engineering perspective in energy.

Unappreciated in renewables advocacy is the fact that complexity in systems design is a virtue only as a last resort for solving an unavoidable problem. It nearly always results in an exponential increase in waste, expense, and maintenance headaches.

Willem Post's picture
Willem Post on Jan 21, 2016 8:30 pm GMT

Bob,

Thank you for these numbers. Here is the revised section.

TESLA: Below is a quick way and a more accurate way to determine the cost per mile of owning and operating a TESLA car for 8 years. Assumptions: TESLA, all-electric car; 85 kWh battery; battery warrantee 8 years, unlimited miles; $80,000, new, $15,000 at 8 years; driven 100,000 miles in 8 years; 0.30 kWh/mile at customer meter; 10% free, on-road charging, 90% at home charging at 0.20 $/kWh.

Annual charging cost is (100,000/8) x 0.3 x (0.1 x 0 + 0.9 x 0.20) = $675, or 5.4 c/mile.

Car cost/mile is (80,000 – 15,000)/100,000 = 65 c/mile.

Quick way cost is 70.4 c/mile, with ignored costs about 90 c/mile.

Annual payment for amortizing $80,000 at 3%, 8y, is $11,396, or (8 x 11396 – 15000)/100000 = 76.2 c/mile.   

Annual charging cost is (100,000/8) x 0.3 x (0.1 x 0 + 0.9 x 0.2) = $675, or 5.4 c/mile.

More accurate way cost is 81.6 c/mile, with ignored costs about 90 c/mile.

Nissan Leaf: Below is a quick way and a more accurate way to determine the cost per mile of owning and operating a Nissan Leaf car for 8 years. Assumptions: 24 kWh battery; battery warrantee 8 years, 100,000 miles; $30,000, new, $5,500 at 8 years; driven 100,000 miles in 8 years; 0.30 kWh/mile at customer meter; no on-road charging, 100% at home charging at 0.20 $/kWh.

Annual charging cost is (100000/8) x 0.3 x 0.20 = $750, or 6 c/mile.

Car cost/mile  = (30000 – 5500)/100000 = 24.5 c/mile.

Quick way cost is 30.5 c/mile, with ignored costs about 40 c/mile.

Annual payment for amortizing $30,000 at 3%, 8y, is $4,274, or (8 x 4274 – 5500)/100000 = 28.7 c/mile.  

Annual charging cost is (100,000/8) x 0.3 x 0.2 = $750, or 6 c/mile.

More accurate way cost = 34.7 c/mile, with ignored costs about 40 c/mile.

Ignored costs: The cost of financing and amortizing (for the “quick way”), PLUS any costs for O&M of car and at-home charger, PLUS taxes, license, registration; PLUS any capacity degradation due to cycling, are ignored. Capacity degradation means it takes more energy to charge and discharge the battery, a shorter range for a given battery discharge, less livelier throttle response during acceleration and uphill driving.

NOTE: Assuming a new owner buys the 8-y-old car for $15,000, he likely would install a new battery for about 85 kWh x $125/kWh = $10,625, plus labor and materials, and disposal of the old battery. The price of a new TESLA likely would be about $80,000 eight years from now, because increases in car costs likely would be offset by decreases in battery costs.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Jan 22, 2016 2:40 am GMT

 I don’t think they’ll [Solar City’ll] be dumping toxic waste in NY.”

No need.  They can outsource their dirty mining work to China, along with the energy intensive silicon refining.  According to the SEIA, the polysilicon wafers only amount to 20 ¢/W of the $3.5/Watt average US price for residential PV systems.

Saudi Arabia’s solar energy program is being handled through the King Abdula Center for Atomic and Renewable Energy.  So as Willem mentioned, they have an active nuclear program too.  They just signed an agreement with a Chinese company to cooperate on building high temperature gas cooled reactors (the first such plant is under construction in China; it’s a Gen IV design which is more advanced than anything in the US).  In these cases “cooperate” ususally means they are negotiating to get more work for local suppliers along with the imported technology.  They also are working with South Korea to deploy their 100 MWe SMR, including a 90 MWe + desalinization variant (by accepting a 10% reduction in electricity output, they get  around 200 MWatts of thermal power at the right temperature for the desal system).

Saudi Arabia’s neighbor the UAE already has a $20 billion contract with South Korea to build a 5.6 GW nuclear plant which is under construction, with the first unit coming on-line in 2017.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jan 22, 2016 4:24 am GMT

Willem, not sure where you’re coming up with 20¢/kWh for electricity – the U.S. average is 12¢, and with any kind of demand response, overnight electricity will be less than that.

I know there’s capacity degradation, that’s built into the range I’m getting in real-world circumstances – probably representative of an average over the life of the battery. Less lively throttle response during acceleration and uphill driving is unnoticeable in my experience. After four years the acceleration of my Leaf bests that of any production car under $50,000.

Regarding battery prices:

Entering 2016 GM said its cells cost $145 per kilowatt-hour, and by late 2021, they could be at the $100 mark.

and Nissan is more than happy to dispose of my old battery for free (they want the lithium back). In fact, they won’t sell me a new one without it.

Your ignored costs are useless for comparison purposes, because they’re ones an internal combustion car would also be subject to: taxes, license, registration, washing, waxing, and vacuuming. But let’s not forget the other ignored costs: tuneups, oil changes, oil filters, spark plugs, belts, mufflers, radiators, air filters, alternators, starters, mileage & emissions degradation…

I get that EVs aren’t the ideal car for northern New England. For the other ~42 more-southerly states, they’re extremely useful and economical for the driving most of us do everyday.

Willem Post's picture
Willem Post on Jan 22, 2016 2:44 pm GMT

Bob,

I expect electrical energy prices to increase during the next 8 years. In NE, they are about 20 c/kWh, including taxes, fees and surcharges.

Degradation of range is noticeable (more energy consumption per mile) during hot days, say 90F, and cold days, say 20F, according to my primary care doctor, who has a Nissan Leaf, and does not drive it during most of the colder days in winter.

I agree, O&M of an EV is much less than of an IC, but I was not comparing EV versus IC; that is another issue.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jan 22, 2016 3:42 pm GMT

Willem, we get our share of 90F+ days here so this summer I will be on the lookout for that.

And I too expect the price of electricity to increase, now that the essentials of Enron’s business model have been legalized.

Sometime I would like to get your thoughts on the Vermont Yankee/Gaz Metro/Pete Shumlin/Mary Powell/Green Mountain Power palace intrigue up there.

Hops Gegangen's picture
Hops Gegangen on Jan 22, 2016 8:34 pm GMT

 

Energy intensive silicon refining in China? How about Iceland using geothermal?

http://www.rechargenews.com/solar/1395365/silicor-rolls-forward-with-ice...

 

Willem Post's picture
Willem Post on Jan 22, 2016 10:35 pm GMT

Bob,

The Chevy-Volt has a cooling and heating system for the battery to make sure deterioration will be minimal.

That requires energy, i.e., more kWh/mile.

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on Jan 24, 2016 9:48 pm GMT

I recall reading that the Saudis postponed their nuclear efforts; oil is too cheap to spend money on conservation right now.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Jan 24, 2016 10:03 pm GMT

Cheap oil is squeezing the budgets for the Saudis as with many others.  But the Saudi nuclear program looks like it might keep moving forward, but at a slower pace:  They are shopping for 100+ MW reactors (e.g. the South Korean SMART here, ie Chinese HTR-PM there) that can be a cheaper initial project than the previously discussed 1100-1700 MW units.

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