Energy storage is the single biggest challenge and opportunity for widespread adoption of renewable energy.
U3O8 Corp. would produce a basket of “battery commodities” for lithium-ion and vanadium redox flow batteries.
Lithium Iron Phosphate Battery (LFP) – the first lithium-ion battery to break the US$100/kWh threshold
The LFP is the first lithium-ion battery to be priced below US$100/kWh, the price at which e-vehicles are projected to be price-competitive with combustion engine vehicles. LFPs are being produced at a price of approximately US$80/kWh (https://www.environmentalleader.com/2021/08/ford-vw-tesla-lean-in-to-lfp-battery-technology-for-evs/).
Phosphoric acid is gaining due recognition as a battery commodity as LFP lithium-ion batteries are recognized as safe and relatively cheap batteries. These batteries initially had relatively low energy densities, resulting in larger battery packs that were initially more suited to larger vehicles such as buses, a market targeted by BYD, China’s giant e-vehicle and battery manufacturer. Energy density has been improving rapidly, with new versions of the LFP attaining energy densities of 210 watt-hours per kilogram (“Wh/kg”), with projections of even higher energy densities of 260Wh/kg being reached in 2022 (https://insideevs.com/news/481770/guoxuan-210-whkg-lfp-battery-cells/).
In addition to the LFP reaching similar energy densities to nickel- and cobalt-based lithium-ion batteries, they are also thermally far more stable, with the risk of fires from the LFPs being minimal in comparison to other types of lithium-ion batteries (https://www.powertechsystems.eu/home/tech-corner/safety-of-lithium-ion-batteries/). This characteristic makes LFPs a prime candidate for the power-packs that need to be installed in homes for storing solar energy captured during the day, for example, to be used to charge e-vehicles during the night when they are parked at home.
VW has taken a 26% equity stake in the company that has attained this 210Wh/kg energy density, and Tesa is using LFPs in its Model 3 worldwide and in all cars manufactured in China. BYD has been using LFP batteries for years (https://www.argusmedia.com/en/news/2108271-chinas-byd-tesla-release-evs-using-lfp-batteries). LFPs are now being used by VW and Ford as well (https://www.environmentalleader.com/2021/08/ford-vw-tesla-lean-in-to-lfp-battery-technology-for-evs/).
Lithium-ion battery demand is expected to surpass 2 tetrawatt-hours (“TWh”) by 2030, resulting in a projected increase in demand, from 2021 levels, of 13 times for phosphorous for LFP batteries (Figure 1). The LFP share of lithium-ion batteries is also growing relative, especially, to NMC batteries (Figure 2, (https://www.canarymedia.com/articles/the-many-varieties-of-lithium-ion-batteries-battling-for-market-share/).
The preliminary economic assessment (“PEA”) undertaken on the Berlin deposit in 2013 modelled the production of 64,000 tonnes per annum (“tpa”) of phosphoric acid (H3PO4) for 16 years. Bloomberg forecasts demand for phosphate for batteries to increase 13 times to meet battery demand by 2030, and LFP battery are projected to carve out a larger market share than other lithium-ion batteries by 2030.
Phosphate is also a principal component of agricultural fertilizer. The second number in the familiar three-number label on the packaging refers to the percentage of phosphate that the fertilizer contains. The first number is the percentage of nitrogen and the third, the percentage of contained potassium or potash. Phosphate is essential for strong root growth, which results in the plants being able to reach water and nutrients from a larger volume of soil – resulting in plant becoming more drought-resistant.
In addition to the basic fertilizer, scientists classify eight micronutrients that are essential to healthy plant growth including boron, chlorine, copper, iron, manganese, molybdenum, nickel and zinc. Of these, the Berlin Deposit contains molybdenum, nickel and zinc, and in addition, manganese and iron that are added during the processing of the rock, could be recovered with the other metals so that Berlin could supply 5 of the 8 essential micronutrients for speciality fertilizers.
The Berlin Deposit is located on the western edge of the Magdalena River valley, one of the most productive agricultural areas of South America, constituting a ready market for local fertilizer.
Nickel-based Lithium-Ion Batteries
Nickel production from Berlin is modelled in the PEA to be 730tpa over 16 years. Nickel is a critical component of two types of lithium-ion batteries, lithium-nickel-manganese-cobalt (“NMC”) and lithium-nickel-cobalt-aluminium oxide (“NCA”) batteries. NMC lithium-ion batteries are used in electric vehicles produced by Nissan, GM, BMW and by Tesla-Panasonic. Projections are that NCA batteries maintain their market share while NMC batteries are likely to lose market share to LFPs through 2030 (Fig, 2; https://www.canarymedia.com/articles/the-many-varieties-of-lithium-ion-batteries-battling-for-market-share/).
Vanadium Redox Flow Batteries (VRFB)
The Berlin PEA modelled production of 1,600tpa of vanadium pentoxide (V2O5) for 16 years. Demand is rising in the energy storage industry with the battery sector’s consumption estimated to continue to grow at 6%-8% CGAR. Some estimates are that global demand for VRBs will reach US$4 billion by 2028 (https://www.labnews.co.uk/article/2030898/go-with-the-flow-transition-to-vanadium-batteries-is-gathering-pace). Vanadium demand for batteries is principally from VRBs, but also from certain types of lithium-ion batteries such as the lithium-ion vanadium phosphate (“LVP”) type.
VRBs are liquid batteries – the cathode material consists of V5+ and V4+ in one tank and the anode is V2+ and V3+ in another tank. The batteries store energy by gaining electrons to form V2+ and V3+ and release energy (electrons) to form V4+ and V5+. The industrial storage potential of VRFBs is based on the fact that their capacity depends basically on the size of the plastic tanks that store the two vanadium solutions: bigger tanks mean greater storage capacity. For practical transport purposes, VFRBs are usually designed in stackable units that are like shipping containers that can be stacked and stored outdoors. The batteries have an operating life of over 20 years. When the membrane does start to become less efficient towards the end of the battery’s life, the vanadium-bearing liquids are simply pumped from the old battery into a new housing, so the batteries are fully recyclable. Since the electrolyte is liquid, these batteries can be charged and discharged almost instantaneously hundreds of thousands of times without significant loss of energy storage capacity.
Illustration of basic concept of Vanadium Redox Flow Batteries.
Several very large VRB batteries are presently under construction; the largest being a 200MW / 800MWh battery system in Dalian in China, to store and regulate power delivery from wind turbines. These figures mean that the battery is designed to generate a maximum of 200MW for 4 hours or 100MW for 8 hours (https://www.en-former.com/en/china-builds-the-worlds-largest-lithium-free-battery). This battery has the capacity, therefore, to power approximately 100,000 typical US homes for 8 hours. The footprint of VRBs is approximately 50MW per hectare, so the 200MW system at Dalian covers approximately 4 hectares.