The move by revolutionary vacuum cleaner manufacturer Dyson to develop a “radically different” electric powered vehicle (EV), has created a lot of interest in what is a very busy space.
Dyson is a ‘left field’ entrant into the battery market, announcing recently that it will spend more than $3 billion to develop an electric vehicle by 2020 and a solid state battery to power it.
Entering a crowded field of big dollar international competitors, Dyson says it does not want to mimic others in the development of lithium-ion (Li) batteries; instead, the company is targeting development of solid state batteries.
The major difference is that solid state batteries use a solid electrolyte, while commonly used Li batteries use a liquid electrolytic solution to regulate current. Solid state batteries are smaller, have greater capacity and charge faster, but they are significantly more expensive and producers are yet to find a solid material that is conductive enough to be used in larger batteries.
Whilst Li batteries are driving the international lithium market and have increased demand for nickel and cobalt, solid-state batteries do use lithium so no matter who wins this contest of ideas, the outlook for Western Australia’s lithium industry remains strong.
The new boom resource is riding a wave of ever-increasing demand – development of EV’s is driving growth beyond the mineral’s already widespread use in batteries powering portable electronic devices such as mobile phones.
The state is already the dominant global provider of lithium, producing around one-third of world supply which, for all applications – including non-battery – is 240-thousand tonnes this year.
Projects are coming online rapidly with a reported $2 billion worth of development already slated as Western Australian companies move to capture a substantial part of the burgeoning demand for lithium.
The latest giant stimulus for the industry came from China, the world’s largest car market with 25 million new vehicles a year.
Chinese authorities have indicated that the country will move to ban petrol and diesel-powered motor vehicles – and, although no deadline has been set, they are working towards a date for the introduction of low-emission electric vehicles.
Global financial services company, Canaccord Genuity, said such a move could require 500-thousand tonnes of battery grade lithium per year – double the current worldwide demand – and that’s for China alone.
In addition, four other nations are strongly committed to phasing out conventionally powered motor vehicles in favour of environmentally cleaner electric models – Britain (which says it will ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars in 2040), France (which also has 2040 as the date from which only electric or other cleaner powered cars could be sold), Germany (no date set) and India (which has an aspirational target of only allowing electric powered vehicles to be sold by 2030).
According to the International Energy Agency, another eight countries have electric car sales targets in place – Austria, Denmark, Ireland, Japan, Holland, Portugal, South Korea and Spain.
It is this sort of momentum which is spurring development of Western Australia’s lithium industry, which, it’s reported, already directly employs more than one thousand people, with the likelihood of that number more than doubling over the next few years.
How this all plays out in the future is anyone’s guess but right now, Western Australia is in the fortunate position of being a major supplier of yet another valuable resource.
Watch this space.
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