//php echo do_shortcode(‘[responsivevoice_button voice=”US English Male” buttontext=”Listen to Post”]’) ?>
TDK Ventures, a unit of TDK, is investing in Novalith, a startup specializing in lithium extraction, said Anil Achyuta, managing director at TDK Ventures.
Novalith’s technological solutions capture and utilize carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to isolate and extract lithium of a higher quality from resource deposits, with no detrimental by-products, to produce a battery-grade, high-purity Li2CO3. The process uses less water, requires a smaller infrastructure and is more cost-effective than the current industry standard. Novalith is commercializing its patented LiCAL technology for lithium extraction and refining from lithium ores, such as spodumene and clays.
In an interview with EE Times, Achyuta noted that all battery chemistries (NMC, LFP, solid state, silicon anodes, etc.) require lithium as the key element, and lithium demand is expected to increase by 10× by 2040.
Projected demand for battery-grade lithium was expected to outpace supply by 2023, with more than a 9× increase by 2030, according to analysts, driven in particular by a global trend toward electrification. In response, the interest in lithium-production innovations is meteoric, as the industry looks to maintain a viable battery supply chain.
“However, the industry supply has consistently failed to meet the market need,” Achyuta said. “The current supply is only 400,000 tpa [tons per annum], but the need will grow to ~4 million tpa in 10 years. Novalith, by providing a clean and fast direct lithium-extraction technology, will be able to address 1.5 million tpa of lithium from spodumene, clay and other rock resources.
“The recent Inflation Reduction Act has listed terms that limit electric-vehicle OEMs to use the raw material extracted, processed and recycled from China and gives incentives for building processing and manufacturing plants in North America and U.S. FTA partners,” he added. “The IRA is driving a big shift out of the supply chain that we are relying on now. We believe Novalith will benefit from the new policy drive and the industry supply chain shift and provide a leapfrog solution to build a new, clean, low-carbon–footprint supply chain for the urgent need of electrification.”
In addition, the current carbon-intensive output from both processes’ machinery expenses and other hazardous by-products (such as the chemicals used in brine solution) negates the environmental responsibility that lithium-ion batteries were designed to promote in the first place, making Novalith’s new technology even more compelling.
Technologies and developments
According to TDK Ventures, the technique developed by Novalith not only helps all lithium-battery–powered items operate more cost-effectively but also makes sure that the application and material-sourcing processes in an electrified society are ecologically beneficial. The supply chain for “dirty” materials used in battery manufacture has been a contentious issue and is seen as the main critique of the electrification movement as a whole.
Current production methods struggle in terms of time, cost and environmental impact. Standard practices include either:
- Traditional ore mining that is requiring the age-old arduous process of finding lithium-containing ore deposits
- Brine extraction, which uses enormous amounts of water and chemicals to collect lithium dissolved in pooled liquid deposits beneath the earth or in tailing ponds.
According to TDK Ventures, both approaches are incredibly slow and filled with upfront infrastructure costs.
“What the industry is doing right now is shipping spodumene concentrate from Australia to China and putting it through the traditional way of lithium chemical processing [the sulphuric acid process],” Achyuta said. “This includes roasting, strong acid leaching [and] tedious and lengthy impurity-removal processes to get rid of silica, magnesium, calcium and other impurities, followed up with filtration, purification, adding soda ash for carbonization and then separation and conversion. The process is heavily involved with chemicals and regent, with high carbon emission and energy consumption, plus a lot of harmful by-products and tailings, as well as large amounts of solid waste to landfill. In comparison, Novalith’s method has a much simpler flowsheet that captures CO2, recycles water, produces no harmful bulk by-products and is a fast and cost-effective way to manufacture battery-grade lithium carbonate or lithium hydroxide. Compared with the conventional process, Novalith’s technology has significant benefits, including >50% cost reduction on processing and equipment, using 90% less water, zero harmful bulk waste and less than half of the emissions of the conventional process per ton of lithium chemical produced.”
TDK Ventures will fully support Novalith throughout its development journey, on technology milestones, commercial progress, future fundraising and company growth.
According to Achyuta, this includes helping them to build their team; hire key talent, marketing and legal, introducing them to other business tractions and partnership opportunities; and helping raise the next round with top financial venture capitalists (VCs) and strategies to supercharge the team and company as they accelerate to the next level.
“Besides, we hope to provide support beyond capital and more than what VCs usually could do; this is what we [mean when we] talk about TDK goodness and leveraging TDK as a global large company committed to a cleaner future,” Achyuta said. “We will facilitate the engagement and collaboration between Novalith and TDK, and with one of TDK’s businesses in battery manufacturing, TDK could be a potential future off-taker of Novalith products, and we would love to be the first witness and support Novalith as the startup grows and moves ahead.”
Novalith’s technology originated in a university laboratory. While scaling up from a lab breakthrough to commercial-scale applications, Novalith’s technology will need to go through the learning cycle, much like many other early-stage firms.
“But we have a lot of confidence in the team: The CEO and founder, Steven Vassiloudis, is fully dedicated to carrying this ambitious mission together with Novalith’s leading scientists and engineering team to continue developing and de-risking the technology as they build pilot, demo and future commercial plants step by step,” Achyuta said. “The key is speed. We hope to provide all the support that Novalith needs to accelerate the growth of the company—and also hope to work with other industry partners. This is not only our mission for Novalith but our common goal to decarbonize the mining and processing industry and accelerate the speed of electrification.”
Globally, 30 Mt of lithium (~160 Mt of lithium carbonate equivalent) are rock-based lithium (~70% hard rock, ~30% soft rocks like clays) that needs to be extracted and processed in an economical, fast and green way.
“We see Novalith continue to progress and validate their technology with more lithium resources from various hard rock and clays,” Achyuta said. “Given the projected annual demand [~4 Mtpa LCE and current annual production of ~0.5 Mt LCE], Novalith would be able to unlock an additional 1.5 Mt LCE per annum of lithium production. Novalith’s innovative technology is a game-changer for the lithium supply chain and could bring a >50% cost reduction on processing and equipment, significantly reduce water consumption, produce no harmful bulk waste and produce a lithium chemical with less than half of the emissions per ton compared with lithium produced by the conventional process.”
There are projected to be 2 billion EVs desired by 2050 to meet the net-zero goal, which would then drive a requirement for 264 billion pounds of extracted lithium, according to Achyuta.
“Not only will lithium production need to ramp up—by a factor of 10 or more over the next 20 years—but extraction methods must become more efficient to make EV batteries more affordable and to leverage lithium deposits that are not currently economically viable,” he said. “In response to this global imbalance of supply and demand, further exacerbated by the incredibly short timeline driving progress, many EV OEMs have adopted a strategy integrating in-house battery-manufacturing gigafactories into their supply chains to reduce risk associated with supply.”
As a result, lithium miners are under more urgent pressure to meet demand. Thus, the timetables for lithium supply are now a major industry pain point in addition to long-term raw material availability.
Building a lithium mine requires between five and 10 years, according to Simon Moores, CEO of Benchmark Mineral Intelligence. A battery facility may be built in about 24 months. These two supply chain components do not share a common timeline.
Read the full article here