Battery Grade Lithium

If you drove 211 miles north of Las Vegas off the I-95 you would come to a small town called Goldfield, Nevada. It is a very small town whose population counts at the 2000 census was only 440 people.  What makes Goldfield very important to the US and the world is its close proximity to Silver Peak Nevada (home of 80 full time residents).  Silver Peak is home to Chemetall Foote Corporation's local lithium mine, the area's largest employer and the only lithium producing mine in the United States.

Chemetalls’s net sales from mining operation are just over $1 Billion. Not too shabby! In August of 2009 Chemetall was awarded $28.4 million in the Federal Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds to expand and upgrade the production of lithium materials for advanced transportation batteries.  The funds will be used by Chemetall in part to expand and upgrade the production of lithium carbonate at the company’s Silver Peak, Nevada, site. Again it should be noted that Chemetall is the only U.S. domestic source of lithium raw material and the largest global producer of lithium and lithium compounds used in batteries, pharmaceuticals and many other industries. Chemetall is a very important partner in the U.S., economy due to the fact that over the past 7 years about 2.4 Billion batteries are in use and are utilizing approximately 35 million pounds of battery grade lithium.

So what is standard battery grade lithium? Standard battery grade lithium is a lithium carbonate manufactured for solid ion conductors and monocrystals used in the electronics industry. Such carbonate is a source of a raw material for the production of cathode material used in lithium ion batteries (lithium cobalt oxide, lithium manganese oxide).

In terms of its chemical composition standard battery grade lithium, or Lithium bis-(oxalato)borate – LiBOB. LiBOB is a conductive agent for the use in high performance lithium (Li) batteries and lithium ion (Li-ion) batteries and lithium polymer (Li-po) batteries.

In terms of appearance it is a white and free flowing powder. It’s chemical formula is C4BO8Li. Its molecular weight is 193.79 g/mol. Its density is 0,8 – 1,2 g/ccm (at 20°C). Its thermal stability is decomposition > 290°C; hygroscopic; decomposes slowly on contact with water. Its solubility is 17 % in propylene carbonate (25°C) about 35 wt.-% in water;  (hydrolysis) good solubility in carbonate mixtures, carboxylic esters, glymes, ketones, and lactones.

A chemical analysis reveals that C4BO8Li is 97.4% assay (a procedure for measuring the molecular structure of an organic sample); 0.03% water; 2.5% insolubles; 10 ppm of Cyanoacrylate; 10 ppm of Iron; 20 ppm of Sodium; 20 ppm of Chlorine.

So how important is C4BO8Li and is there enough available resource? Current available lithium reserves is estimated at 28,000,000 tonnes. Current worldwide demand is estimated at 23,000,000 tonnes. So there is enough no and for the foreseeable future as long as mines like the Silver Peak mine in Nevada continues to operate.

Until next time, Dan Hagopian –
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