Cost of Battery Grade Lithium Increases 20%

In an article titled Battery Grade Lithium I highlighted the only US manufacturer of Lithium (Chemtell). It gives a backdrop to a very important metal that we all use in some form or another. Recently on 6-16-2011 Chemtell announced a 20% increase in prices (effective July 1, 2011) for its lithium salts, including lithium carbonate, lithium hydroxide, lithium chloride, and increases on battery grade lithium metal.

Battery grade lithium metal is the material that is used in batteries and over the past 7 years about 2.4 billion batteries have been in use and are utilizing approximately 35 million pounds of 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.

Battery grade lithium metals are sold to a wide assortment of manufacturers by the kilogram as ingots. A lithium ingot is often times a cylindrical roll of lithium that weighs about 11 pounds on average. Special order ingots of course can be requested thereby changing the average weight. Lithium ingots are made from technical grade lithium carbonate which is a byproduct of lithium and a solution of lithium hydroxide. The conversion of lithium in the lithium hydroxide solution results in lithium carbonate as a fine white powder. This powder is placed into a billet container prior to being processed through the extrusion. The extruded billet may be solid or hollow in form, commonly cylindrical, used as the final length of material charged into the extrusion press cylinder. It is usually a cast product, but may be a wrought product or sintered from powder compact. This billet of lithium carbonate is the ingot.

Battery manufacturers take the typically shaped ingot and stretch it into a thin sheet of metal that is only 1/100th of an inch thick and 650 feet in length. A laminator furthers the process by stretching the 655 foot lithium roll to about 1.25 miles of lithium used to make 210 lithium batteries. The battery cell is then tested to measure 3.6V. Volts (volts are an electrical measure of energy potential – you can think of it as the pressure being exerted by all the electrons of a battery’s negative terminal as they try to move to the positive terminal)

In terms of pricing in 1998 the price of lithium was $43.33 per pound. In April of 2009 the average price per pound was $28.57. In May of 2010 the average price of lithium per pound was $28.24 and currently the average price per pound of lithium is increasing to around $35.86. As noted above a typical ingot weighs in at about 11 pounds (total metal value is about $394.46 per ingot – note this is not the complete costs that manufacturers pay for a single ingot).

Until next time, Dan Hagopian –