An overview of the supply chain from lithium ore to batteries
The supply chain for lithium-ion batteries is complex and involves multiple steps, from the extraction of raw materials to the final assembly of the batteries. Here is a description of a typical supply chain:
- Lithium extraction: The process begins with the extraction of lithium from either pegmatite rock deposits or brine deposits, as previously mentioned. In the case of hard-rock mining, lithium-containing minerals like spodumene are extracted and processed to produce lithium concentrate. For brine deposits, the lithium-rich brine is pumped to the surface and undergoes a series of evaporation processes to concentrate the lithium salts.
- Lithium refining: The lithium concentrate or lithium salts are then shipped to refining facilities where they are further processed to produce lithium chemicals like lithium carbonate or lithium hydroxide. These lithium compounds are used as the raw materials for the battery’s cathode.
- Production of battery components: Apart from lithium, a lithium-ion battery consists of several other components, including the anode, electrolyte, and separators. The anode is typically made from graphite or other carbon-based materials. The electrolyte is a lithium salt dissolved in a solvent, and the separators are thin layers of porous materials that prevent direct contact between the anode and cathode.
- Cathode and anode manufacturing: The lithium compounds are used to manufacture the cathode, which is commonly made of lithium cobalt oxide (LiCoO2), lithium manganese oxide (LiMn2O4), lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4), or other lithium-based materials. The anode materials, such as graphite, are also processed and prepared in this stage.
- Battery cell assembly: In this step, the various components are assembled to create individual battery cells. The cathode and anode materials are coated onto metal foils (aluminum for the cathode and copper for the anode) and are separated by the porous separators. The electrolyte is then added, and the assembled cell is sealed in a protective casing.
- Battery module and pack assembly: Individual battery cells are combined into modules, which are then further assembled into battery packs. The modules are connected in series and parallel configurations to achieve the desired voltage and capacity for the specific application. Battery management systems (BMS) and cooling systems are also integrated at this stage to ensure optimal performance, safety, and lifespan of the battery pack.
- Final product integration: The assembled battery packs are then shipped to manufacturers of electric vehicles, consumer electronics, and energy storage systems, where they are integrated into the final products.
It is important to note that the supply chain for lithium-ion batteries can vary depending on the specific chemistry, design, and manufacturing processes involved. Additionally, the supply chain is influenced by factors such as the geographical location of raw materials, the availability of processing facilities, and transportation logistics. As the demand for lithium-ion batteries continues to grow, efforts are being made to improve the efficiency, sustainability, and transparency of the supply chain to minimize environmental impact and ensure ethical sourcing practices.