High-grade lithium discovered in Nigeria

2023-05-12 10:22

Key updates-

  • The discovery does not equate to a commercial find. In fact, it should be taken only as a first step in the long journey to be established as a commercially viable deposit that can be mined and extracted.

  • In Nigeria, lithium minerals (spodumene and lepidolite) are known to be associated with cassiterite, columbite-tantalite (coltan) and others in the extensive belt of rare metal-bearing rock types called pegmatite.

  • The Geological Agency described the lithium as high grade because what’s been found has between 1-13 per cent oxide content. Normally exploration begins at levels as low as 0.4 percent.

Lithium and its importance-

  • Grade (in percent) is a measure of concentration of the lithium in the minerals and or rocks that contain it.

  • Therefore, the higher the grade the more the economic viability.

  • Lithium is a metallic mineral in very high demand by manufacturing industries.

  • In nature it tends to concentrate sufficiently in the two minerals, spodumene and lepidolite.

  • Otherwise it will occur dispersed in minerals but not sufficient enough to be of economic consideration.

  • They are usually found in specialised rocks called rare metal-bearing pegmatites and greisens.

  • Earlier the bulk of demand for lithium was split between ceramics and glasses (35 per cent) and greases, metallurgical powders, polymers, and other industrial uses (over 35 per cent). Less than 30 per cent was for batteries.

  • But by 2030, batteries are expected to account for 95 percent of demand.

  • Lithium-ion batteries are generally more expensive but have better performance and are becoming the preferred technology. The different types are:

    • Lithium-cobalt oxide battery– It is used in consumer electronics and is finding application in electric vehicles. It is relatively cheap.

    • Lithium-nickel-manganese-cobalt is a newer, higher performing range of battery chemistry. It is mainly developed for the electronic vehicle market but is finding a wider use because of its increasing cost effectiveness.

    • Lithium iron phosphate, the safest technology with relatively high performance but relatively expensive. It is very popular in China but is likely to become overtaken by Lithium-nickel-manganese-cobalt over the longer term; and

    • Lithium-nickel-cobalt-aluminium oxide was developed to reduce cobalt consumption and is known as a solid performer and of reasonable cost.

  • Lithium-ion batteries are used in mobile phones, computers, electronics, energy storage systems and electric vehicles.

  • Lithium and most lithium minerals are mined along with other high-value metallic minerals such as tin, niobium-tantalum (columbite-tantalite) and uranium (in pyrochlore).

  • Greenbushes mine in Western Australia is the largest hard-rock lithium mine in the world. Tantalum is also mined there.

  • Due to the growing interest in clean energy, the demand for lithium has skyrocketed as most countries draw plans to phase out fossil fuel vehicles and switch to zero-emission electric vehicles.

  • Lithium production globally grew from 28,100 metric tonnes in 2010 to 86,000 in 2019.  

  • Three countries, Australia (40,000 tonnes), Chile (20,600 tonnes) and China (14,000 tonnes) mine about 86 per cent of the world’s lithium.

  • Others are Argentina, Brazil, Zimbabwe, USA and Portugal.

  • The largest importers of lithium are South Korea, China, Japan, US and Belgium.

  • Lithium price was average of $2,000 per metric tonne in 2002 rising to $18,000 in 2018.

  • The lithium supply chain involves converting lithium minerals to lithium concentrates and lithium hydroxides.

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