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Tianqi Lithium, which owns half of Greenbushes mine operator Talison Lithium, is spending $400 million building a processing plant in Kwinana.

Energy shift sparks lithium opportunity

It is not often that another Australian state does Western Australia a favour, but when South Australia turns on the world’s biggest battery, being built as part of its drive to overcome an electricity shortage, it will almost certainly be powered by WA-mined lithium.

That might not seem as important as the battery itself, which is one of many ambitious projects planned by Tesla car and renewable rocket entrepreneur, Elon Musk.

Assuming the battery works as promised, it will reinforce a powerful shift in the global energy business; and while WA’s oil and gas industry is the local energy leader, it might not be long before lithium achieves a similar prominence.

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Comments

Curtin University's Peter Newman has been promoting the concept of 'Lithium Valley', where academia and industry come together to work on all things related to energy storage off the back of WA's dominance in the lithium supply chain. Given man-made storage looks to be the way of the future (as opposed to storage provided by nature e.g. coal, gas ,etc), this would appear to be a very sensible pursuit. And given that batteries involve advanced manufacturing (as opposed to labour intensive manufacturing), why not look even further downstream? It makes more sense than shipping 6 per cent concentrate around the world and buying it back as a finished product. The only issue is that we are competing against countries where significant incentives are provided to encourage these sort of things. By the way, according to the US Geological Survey, WA supplied around 40 per cent of the world's lithium in 2016. Imagine what a country like China would do with that sort of leverage. Australia and Chile supply almost 80 per cent of the global market between them. Anyone think we should have a chat?

WA
Lithium is relatively scarce and mining rates are just about matching consumption at the moment. Current usage for batteries is somewhere below 0.001 per cent of its potential use if one is to believe comments coming from Volvo, Renault, Ford, Tesla, Mitsubishi and countries such as Norway, France, Sweden, Holland, India and China. The issues associated with a scarce resource, demand, and economics are going to be complex. These complexities will lead to other battery types, and maybe lithium is having its time in the sun, but its scarcity is its Achilles heel.

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