Batteries

Published on April 19th, 2016 | by James Ayre

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New Method Of Extracting Lithium From Natural Brine Yields 99.9% Purity

April 19th, 2016 by  

Originally published on EV Obsession.

Researchers at Lappeenranta University of Technology in Finland recently completed work examining new methods of extracting lithium from natural brine sources — revealing that the new methods allow for an increase in the purity of the recovered lithium solution from around 95% all the way up to 99.9%.

Accomplishing such a high degree of purity through traditional methods is much more difficult and resource intensive, according to those involved.

Lithium in paraffin

The work is worth covering here, as lithium is one of the primary materials used in the creation of lithium-ion batteries — which are currently (and likely for quite a while longer) the dominant battery technology modality in use in electric vehicles. With an increase in electric vehicle and home energy system sales and market presence, associated resource prices (such as lithium prices) may well rise without new, cheaper extraction methods.

A new press release from Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT) provides more:

Lithium and lithium carbonate used in accumulators are primarily produced from salt lake deposits. Prior to the actual separation process, the brine is pumped up and concentrated by evaporation of water which usually takes place in large pools under the sun. Finally, the concentrated solution is led into a process in which the solution is purified of impurities and the lithium is separated.

At LUT, solvent extraction has been used for purifying the solution. In this process, the separation occurs between two insoluble liquid phases. In this case, impurities, calcium and magnesium were separated from the concentrated lithium salt solution into an organic solution consisting primarily of kerosine.

“We were typically able to purify 99–100% of calcium and also over 90% of magnesium. Lithium loss only amounted to 3–5%. In traditional methods, the purification outcome is either weaker, the lithium loss is more substantial, or both,” commented Sami Virolainen, a post-doctoral researcher at LUT.

The new work was done at the pilot-scale (flow rates during extraction varied from 1-5 liters/hour) rather than the commercial-scale of course, but the process could be scaled up.

“On the industrial scale, we are talking about a cube or dozens of cubes per hour. However, the process has been constructed similarly as it would be in the industry, i.e., constant streams go in and come out and the number of processing phases is the same as in an industrially conducted extraction.”

Virolainen argues that the new solvent extraction method “is a profitable alternative to an extraction process when the product is required to have the purity of nearly 100% and a high recovery of the target metal is demanded.”

“The extraction process we use is more expensive than regular precipitation but, as the study indicates, separation is more efficient and easier. This simplifies the overall process, which also makes it an economically sensible alternative,” he continued.

Interestingly, the new method is also well suited to the extraction of lithium from electronic waste.

Virolainen made a salient point on that matter: “The need for lithium might increase by up to 4 times by the year 2025. As the demand grows, recycling of products containing lithium and the use of new alternative sources for raw material must be increased.”

Image Credit: (Lithium in Paraffin) Public Domain

Reprinted with permission.


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About the Author

's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy. You can follow his work on Google+.



  • neroden

    Worth noting that the magesium is valuable if it’s separated. (The calcium really isn’t.)

  • LookingForward

    Combining desalination with lithium- and other mineral extraction seems like a good way to increase profits from desalination plants and therefore make it more interresting for investment.
    Might be a great idea for places like california?
    Also the seawater doesn’t have to be cleaned up to drinking water levels, might be a good way to combat drought and wildfires?

    • Bob_Wallace

      I suspect there would be a need for large evaporation ponds. Real estate costs a lot in California.

      Some of the Middle Eastern countries looking at desal might have low cost land available.

      (There could easily be something I don’t know about separating lithium and other minerals in desal waste. Perhaps it doesn’t need to be highly concentrated.)

      • LookingForward

        Coastal regions sure, but using a pipeline to pump the seawater to a dry unpopulated area, yet reasonably close to a large enough town/city that has problems with it’s watersupply and then desalinate it there, should be easy enough, right? (For example a town/city close to the saltplanes) Or is that more complicated then I’m thinking?

  • JamesWimberley

    A useful reference on mineral exhaustion is from the often annoying Tom Worstall, here (link), The takeaway is that “proven mineral reserve” is a legal term in mining securities law, to prevent “there’s gold in them thar hills” scams. The proving at a site costs a lot of money, and mining companies won’t do it until there is a good prospect of a market demand for the product. So it always looks as if reserves will run out in 20 years. They never do.

    • eveee

      Yes. Just like oil reserves is a defined term. When extraction processes change, reserves change, both up and down. California just had its oil reserves adjusted way, way down.

    • Epicurus

      The petroleum industry defines different types of reserves,
      i.e. proved developed producing (“PDP”), proved developed non-producing
      (“PDNP”–unperforated zones in existing wells), proved undeveloped
      (“PUD”–wells yet to be drilled proven and geographically defined reservoirs), and “probable” (truly an educated guess, e.g. wells on the fringe of a proved reservoir), the
      certainty and value of which declines in that order.

      As eveee notes below, technology influences the existence, amount, and value of reserves.

      Valuable
      gas reserves in previously worthless shale zones magically appeared when horizontal drilling and improved methods of hydraulic
      fracturing were developed in the 90s. The result was a worldwide gas boom.

  • OneHundredbyFifty

    I put this together a while back to convince myself that there were no show stoppers as far as Lithium and EVs. It appears that for some time demand was insufficient to drive significant exploration. However, recently there has been demand which has driven exploration and spiked increases in identified sources in the US and abroad. If anyone has updates that I could add to the graph please send them my way. https://handlemanpost.wordpress.com/2013/12/24/will-we-be-held-hostage-to-lithium/

  • Necro Nomaken

    Jesus christ, that’s a purity that would make even Walter White happy.

    • Shane 2

      My company is involved in lithium from ore extraction. This could be bad news for us.

      • Calamity_Jean

        Forewarned is forearmed.

  • Bob_Wallace

    The 100 mile Nissan Leaf uses 4kg of lithium in its batteries. Let’s say magic happens and between 2015 and 2035 we put 1.2 billion 200 mile range EVs on the world’s roads, each using 8kg of lithium in their batteries. (And that’s if range increase comes only from more batteries rather than the more likely improved anodes and cathodes.)

    That would mean that in that 20 year period we would need to produce 480,000 metric tons of lithium per year. (And after that we could just recycle what we’ve already extracted.)

    At 20 mg lithium per kg of Earth’s crust, lithium is the 25th most abundant element. Nickel and lead have about the same abundance. There are approximately 39 million tonnes of accessible lithium in the Earth’s crust. An 81 year supply.

    Argentina, Australia, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, China, Portugal and Zimbabwe have roughly 13,000,000 metric tons of lithium that can be extracted. That’s a 27 year supply.

    Bolivia has 5.4 million of the 13 million tons. Over 11 years.

    There are approximately 230,000,000,000 tons of lithium in seawater. A 479,167 year supply.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lithium#Terrestrial

    • eveee

      The amount of recoverable lithium rises as the demand for lithium raises its value. The cost of lithium in a long range EV may be as low as $120. With the search for lithium continuing, efforts like this that lower the cost of extraction are bound to come along. That also increases recoverable reserves. Between this and recycling, lithium limits are a long way off. Long enough for us to improve other chemistries like Zinc Manganese. I thinks its 4kg of metallic lithium, but 12kg of Lithium carbonate.

      • Armchair Hydrogeologist

        I agree. Mining follows a similar learning curve to other industries up until the resource becomes truly scarce. Lithium won’t be a problem long run. It’s easy to solution mine….in many deposits from dead oil wells that usgs doesn’t event know about because nobody bothered to keep track of it. A lot of oil wells go through old salt lake beds because oil traps just under them.

        Cobalt and nickel on the other hand. …a bit tougher.

        • eveee

          Yes. The talk is all about lithium, but materials like cobalt are a different matter. Nickel is fairly abundant and cheap, but both cobalt and nickel are dense, heavy. Of course, chemistries are changing and that will change matters, too. Most of the battery is not cobalt or lithium, but the other materials are very abundant.

      • Shane 2

        Lithium ion batteries don’t have significant levels of metallic (zero valent) lithium.

        • eveee

          Right. Its in the form of lithium carbonate.

          • Shane 2

            I think that the carbonate anion ([CO3]2-) gets ditched during the chemical formulation of the battery components. The Li+ ion remaining acts as a counter ion for a few negatively charged species in the battery. Some of it shuttles between the cathode and anode during charging and discharging.

          • eveee

            Well sort of ditched. Lithium carbonate is used as a starting material and mixed with the electrolyte. Then the battery has to be “formed” with some early discharge/charge cycling and curing.
            The stoichiometry is shown here. The carbon goes into the electrolyte solution during formation and is not used in the exchange.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lithium-ion_battery

            In a lithium-ion battery the lithium ions are transported to and from the

            There is a formation process that gets the SEI layer going.
            http://www.mpoweruk.com/chemistries.htm#sei

    • eveee

      Heres some more:

      “According to Jon Hykawy, a researcher at Byron Capital Markets, the Nissan Leaf contains about 4kg of lithium metal, equivalent to 21kg of lithium carbonate. According to the USGS [pdf], lithium carbonate in 2009 cost $4.47 per kg. Hykawy states that the price of battery-grade lithium carbonate is actually more like $5.70 per kg.

      Thus, the Nissan Leaf contains $120 of lithium carbonate. That’s 0.6% of the cost of the battery.

      We can generalize and use the PriceWaterhouse Coopers figure of batteries costing $1,000 per kwh. An electric vehicle requires between 1.4-1.5kg of lithium carbonate per kWh, or $8.55. Thus lithium carbonate is less than one percent of the cost of a battery.

      Here’s how the US Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory puts it:

      The actual lithium compound used to make cathode materials, lithium carbonate (Li2CO3), is considerably less expensive. The price history of lithium carbonate is shown in Figure 5.6. The average price reported for lithium carbonate in the United States at the end of 1999 was $4.47/kg ($2.03/lb). However, increased production in Chile and Argentina has led to a recent oversupply, and actual prices paid have been as much as 50% below the list, matching the price of only $0.90/lb from Chile and Argentina. A shutdown of the Argentine production due to process problems caused the price to rise again, but the price was still below list in early 2000 (Ober 2000). Recycled materials and sales from DOE stock put further downward pressure on prices. Large demand for batteries could eventually drive the price up. At the current list price, the lithium carbonate for the batteries in an EV like the Altra would cost about $100, and the material for an HEV battery would cost about $5.”

      http://www.tremcenter.org/inde

      • Bob_Wallace

        Thanks. I’ll use that to update my lithium “copy and paste”….

        • Bob_Wallace

          Your link is returning a 404.

          • eveee
          • juxx0r

            @Bob_Wallace:disqus @disqus_MOZiUpcqXO:disqus
            Sorry I’m late, i’ve been busy.

            1kg LCE per kWh is a good rule of thumb. Most battery manufacturers prefer lithium hydroxide as the raw material these days but LC remains the tradeable benchmark.

            The next few years of mine production increases are covered by mines starting up this year and next. Thereafter there are a thousand hopefuls of whom a few at least will have some success and the recent tesla model 3 announcement has added a few billion dollars of market cap and therefore development capital at these hopefuls. So whilst they dont theoretically have the cash in the bank, they have far greater access to capital than they did a month ago.

            I think the lithium price in the medium term should average $6-8/kg of Lithium carbonate and long term will drop back to $5-6/kg. This will be enough to maintain supply and is over the hurdle rate required for more hard rock miners to pick up the growth.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Thanks.

            I would expect Panasonic, LG Chem and other battery manufacturers to be involved in making sure they have adequate supply. Wouldn’t they be contracting supply ahead of time, as they increase manufacturing capacity?

            (Obviously there will be bumps.)

          • juxx0r

            The contract price and the recent reports out of china are wildly different. Everyone who is anyone has long term contracts. I still doubt that the contract price will go over $10/kg.

          • eveee

            Thanks. I note that Bolivia has not been tapped yet. The estimates range crazily over 40 to 1. Must be the estimate of recoverability. Both market conditions and extraction economics can change those amounts drastically. Bolivia is a ginormous source. The energy consumption and environmental impacts of extraction will be of great interest going forward.

        • ToddFlach

          Use 2016 numbers for goodness sakes. Prices for lithium carbonate have tripled over the last year. The current lithium ore extractors are NOT keeping up with demand which is exploding. Yes there is plenty of lithium in the earth´s crust and in the ocean. The biggest reserves of gold are dissolved in seawater but I do not see anybody developing projects for this because it is thermodynamically doomed to failure.

          • Bob_Wallace

            No, that’s a short term price spike caused by tight supply. It will go away soon.

            Same thing happened with solar panels a few years back when demand exceeded the amount of silicon that was being processed. In about two years a couple more plants came online and the price dropped back down.

            Demand for wind turbines bumped up in 2010 (?) and the price of turbines saw a big increase until manufacturing ramped up.

            What we’ll likely see is a drop in the cost of lithium beyond what eveee reported as production volumes increase and economies of scale kick in.

          • ToddFlach

            If by “soon” you mean in the next 2-3 years I agree with you. New hard-rock lithium mineral mines are being developed aggressively in Australia, which is a country that knows how to mine rocks! These mines are very capital intensive and require lots and lots of machinery and kit, often at very remote places with little or no transport infrastructure. That is why the existing lithium brine producers in South America have a much lower cost of production. They just pump up the lithium-rich brine onto the salt flats and let the sun concentrate the lithium minerals as the water evaporates. This process takes however 12-18 months depending on sun conditions and brine concentrations. So if they start pumping brine today (which all press releases indicate that they are hesitating to do this), it will take at least a year for the increased lithium to come to market.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Two or three years would be “soon” since we’re talking about long term prices. A blip.

            Actually I expect the spike to be over in less than two years. Both Panasonic and LG Chem probably started the process of creating more lithium supply when they decided to engage in a huge battery scale up.

          • OneHundredbyFifty

            Yes, not only did silicon prices recover, they dropped below their previous levels as new processing was developed and put online. Presumably the same will happen with Lithium. However, given the spike in growth that will occur as Bolt and M3 come online there is a question as to how rapidly the market can bring the production online. My guess is that EV batteries will do a similar dance to PV modules. They will flat line high in response to high commodity prices. While we are waiting for the material prices to drop, costs will be wrung out of production. Lithium will catch up and there will be a sudden and steep price drop. Notice that most of the discussions talk about 2017 (new models and car production come online) and 2020 when production ramps will allow for commodity volumes. Not a lot in between. I think 2020 will be the break-out year. Large battery factories will fully ramp, raw material sourcing will mature, car factories will ramp. It will be interesting to see if OPEC cooperates and raises the price of oil. I bet they won’t. At this point they are best served by keeping gas cheap and getting as many 10 year lifetime gas guzzlers on the road as possible. Their biggest problem is no longer each other, $3.00 / gallon gasoline is no longer economical. https://handlemanpost.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/battery-price-vs-ev-breakeven1.jpg

        • eveee

          More. The amount of lithium carbonate used is a variable. It depends on the chemistry and the application. This paper adds to the clarification (or confusion 🙂 ). Translated, the amount of Lithium Carbonate depends on several factors. The active lithium is an ion of the carbonate in solution. Some of it is not in the active area, but stored in cathode or anode.
          In addition, formation of the SEI layer, activation energies, and internal resistance lower the effective voltage, lowering the energy output. I generally lump all these voltage drops as internal resistance, but they are broken out by source in this reference.
          Page 6 of the pdf.
          http://www.meridian-int-res.com/Projects/How_Much_Lithium_Per_Battery.pdf

          Confusing? Yes. This means the amount of lithium carbonate used is not fixed. But just go with the number you have for now. Its reasonable.

    • Paul

      You’re assuming we will be stuck with lithium batteries for the next 20 years. There are flow batteries and other new technologies in the works.

      • Bob_Wallace

        I’m not making that assumption. I’m just talking about the supply of lithium if we continue using it for batteries long term.

      • Shane 2

        It is unlikely that flow batteries will provide the high energy densities found in current vehicle lithium ion batteries. You could however rapidly refuel your vehicle with recharged electrolyte from a gas pump type of dispenser so maybe you don’t need such high energy density. Lithium sulphur might be a viable technology in the future if advanced nanotech overcomes the serious decline in performance with cycling.

        • Bob_Wallace

          The idea of refilling flow batteries ‘at the pump’ was introduced several years ago. As far as I know no one has done anything with that idea. The volume of chemical storage could be an idea killer.

          • Calamity_Jean

            And you’d need at least six tanks of solution at the recharge station. Two tanks (anode and cathode) of fully charged solution waiting to be pumped out, two of “spent” solution received, and two that are in the process of being recharged. Plus piping to connect them all.

  • Suprakash Mishra

    Can Lithium be extracted from sea water using this technique?

    • Armchair Hydrogeologist

      Not sure but I assume that this process is primarily anticipating solution mining lithium brines. There’s very large rich deposits of lithium buried in certain ancient lake salt beds. My understanding is that there are huge amounts of deposits of lithium in many areas of the world that are known to mining companies but basically ignored because the lithium market is too small to justify the capital expense of building the infrastructure to mine it. The main unique local site need is a bunch of worthless land with good sun to evaporate the brine and let the lithium precipitate out.

      My understanding is that most of the mining industry believes that if two companies make a very large investment in a lithium mining/reducing that the price will drop like a rock and they’ll lose their shirts but if only one company does it they’ll be okay.

    • JamesWimberley

      IIRC you can extract pretty much any metal from sea water if you really have to. But it’s not your first choice as the concentrations are so low.

      • Alaa

        Would you agree with the following statement?

        If we have an infinite source of energy for almost zero cost thus we can extract Li from sea water for almost zero cost.

        I suspect the logic of the above statement is sound!

        If so thus using solar panels on a ship in the sea will produce Li for almost zero cost. That is not including the salaries etc.

        • tibi stibi

          that is the economy we are getting at. computer programs, robots and almost zero cost energy will do the work. if it is getting lithium from the sea or making clean water or planting crops. the near zero economy is around the corner

          • Harry Johnson

            It sounds like everyone will have a lot of free time with nothing to do…

          • tibi stibi

            yes that will be true. we can do sport, art, games. when you think of it we do a lot of things without money incentives. i like to make a puzzle which is totally useless and a computer can do it much faster than i can. but i have fun doing it 😀

          • Harry Johnson

            How will people pay for rent or food? No machine can change bedding, clean a bathroom or build an entire building. It seems like there will just be more people desperate for fewer and fewer low paying jobs.

          • nakedChimp

            In a future like that – you’re supposed to do human work for like a couple of hours per week (the remainder is done by machines/robots/computers) and it will earn you enough “points” to have a normal live (rent, food, activities).
            It won’t be enough for luxury or ultra-luxury.
            If you want that you either need to find a way to get good&services siphoned from other humans (capitalism via monopols/oligopols does that for example) or you must have some unique skill that will pay you above average for your couple of hours per week (rockstar, famous actor, successfull artist or sportsman, etc. pp).

            I could discuss stuff like this for hours. 😉

          • tibi stibi

            we need to extend what we are already doing and that is moving money from the working to the non working.
            either in

            age (schools or pensions)
            family (one working, other doing household)
            country (taxes and wellfare)
            criminal (steeling)

          • Carl Raymond S

            All my life I’ve been hearing that. As low skill jobs are automated, the economy shifts to utilise more creative skills, and the leisure and hospitality industry grows. There’s no end in sight to the work to be done to build the new sustainable economy.

          • neroden

            Socialism, Harry. Socialism is the only solution. Think about it.

            The paradigm of “work or starve!!!” must end. Once we have unlimited free power, we have to guarantee that everyone gets food, clothing, and shelter whether or not they work.

          • disqus_RZmZNR5uTb

            The Capitalist system is not a just system no more than was the communist system which failed completely with the fall of the USSR.
            Capitalism as it is today is bound to fail also with the ever widening gap between those who have and those who have a lot less.
            To survive Capitalism must adapt.
            Presently there is no limit on the fortune anyone can amass,that has to change,a limit must be set by law.
            If a company installs a robot that does the work of 10 individuals,the owner of that company will fire 10 persons and pocket the money saved.
            But if that owner kept paying those 10 persons to stay at home he would have given to society without any cost to him. Of course it wouldn’t be easy to convince company owners to do it,so there has to be something in it for them.
            If the limit of a person’s fortune was set at $50m or $100million,it would be reached by many people who wouldn’t like that limit so they would be allowed to go over it if they could pay a certain number of people to do nothing,(number to be determined)as an exemple you get to add $10m if you lay off and pay 100 persons. Let’s not forget that those unemployed people will still be spending as much as before which will keep the economy going,something unemployed people today cannot do.
            That would also speed up the robotisation of work,some people would still have to work manually but there would be less and less use for them and those still needed would have to be paid an interesting salary to incite them to work,that way the person who collects the garbage will justly be paid more than the person watching him do it,,, finally!

          • Bob_Wallace

            Capitalism will not go away as long as one person has something they are willing to sale or rent and there’s someone willing to buy or rent it.
            The issue is how much we need to regulate capitalism in order to avoid monopoly ownership (which we’re heading toward right now). And how much we can regulate capitalism without harming progress. Cuba is a good example of too much regulation.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Yes. And as we move into that new reality we’ll have to figure out a new way to distribute goods. Labor will have little value, if any.

          • Shane 2

            We could have owners of equipment having vast assets and the majority of people living in poverty. According to Mitt (one of the owners), there are makers and takers. Mitt apparently is a maker.

          • nakedChimp

            Unless you factor in the know-how (patent-protected) costs of all these processes/machines and programs.

            And yes, that’s a monopoly you encountered there.

          • Mike Shurtleff

            Well, lower cost of electricity, certainly …but near zero?
            Remember when nuclear energy was going to be too cheap to meter? Think you might be leaping to assumptions.

        • Bob_Wallace

          No, because the lithium extraction equipment costs something and the electricity to power it will cost something.

          Solar might drop to around 3 cents per kWh but it won’t be ‘almost zero’.

          We may find that the outflow from desalination plants could be a source of semi-concentrated lithium (and other minerals). That might cut the cost of seawater extraction to some extent.

          • Alaa

            I am powering my house here in Cairo Egypt with solar panels and I pay ZERO to the utilities. I have about 10kWh of old laptop batteries, solar panels and an inverter and as I said I pay nothing! I paid for the solar panels and the inverter. They will last many years. By then I will do my own inverter. The solar panels were for $0.5 a watt. We have over 3400 hours of sun shine hours per year. Multiply that with an expected life time of 20 years and you will get the following
            $0.5 / (3400*20) = well I will leave that to work out. It is a small number by the way.

          • Bob_Wallace

            All that stuff costs money. We can’t do large scale lithium extraction from seawater using old laptop batteries.

          • Mike Shurtleff

            $0.5/W = 50c/W = 50,000c/kW
            (50,000c/kW) / (3,400h*20years) = 0.74c/kWh
            No installation cost.
            No mounting hardware, wire, inverter, electronic controls, switches.
            Assembly cost of laptop batteries into usable pack? (That’s not really an approach that’s going to work for the population/market at large anyway.)
            Cost of batteries for the rest of users?

            I agree the cost will be lower (in sunny areas!) than current cost of end-of-grid electricity, probably at least as low as 6c/kWh, with daily storage included, …BUT near zero remains to be seen …and this foes not include power for rainy periods or seasonal power when farther from equator.

          • tibi stibi

            it will get to almost zero. when a factory will be operated by robots using the energy from solar panels which they make themselves and the sand to make them is fetched by robots too.

            and even sooner when a solar panel is 25 years old it will still produce power and the cost will all be done with. 🙂

          • Bob_Wallace

            I think we need to be careful about assuming almost free electricity. Let’s take it down as low as we can get it.

            A paid off solar farm. Still has some operating costs, say half a cent. And the owner is going to want some sort of profit. Why would they give it away? A penny? That would be 1.5c/kWh at the fence.

            The grid isn’t going to move the power from fence to customer for free. They will want to earn enough to cover operating expenses and make some profit. Three cents?

            I’m guessing that the floor might be 4.5c/kWh. The floor for paid off wind might be a little higher because wind has higher opex, so 5c?

            A wind or solar farm that was not paid off would still have the same floor price, I would think. If they couldn’t cover their opex and make a little money why would they turn on?

            If demand was lower than available wind/solar I see no rationale for either wind or solar farms to give it away. And the grid is going to get theirs.

          • Lou Gage

            Good though. Use as waste product as an asset. Can deminerized sea water then be used to water food crops? Lou Gage

          • Bob_Wallace

            I won’t say “absolutely not” because who knows what might be invented. But I don’t think we know how to desalinate water cheaply enough for agricultural uses yet.

        • jeffhre

          Yes. But only when both adding solar panels and powering ships approaches cost free.

        • Mike Shurtleff

          Old engineering adage:
          “assumption is the root of all error”

          You may turn out to be right about near zero cost …or wrong. It remains to be seen. That’s an assumption and cannot be used as the basis for a valid argument.

          Wind is now the lowest cost source of new electricity on the grid. This is great, but it is not “near zero cost”. Solar PV is still more expensive than wind. Will it get cheaper?
          Wind blows somewhere all the time on the US Great Plains, e.g. Iowa now >30% Wind electricity. The sun does not shine at night. Solar PV requires storage at night for high percentages of penetration. It’s coming. It will dominate in many sunny areas …because of lower cost …but near zero? I personally can’t see that yet. That’s a big maybe boss.

          Lithium from seawater. What for? There’s plenty for more than 20 years at very high rate of use, as Bob_Wallace has already clearly demonstrated …based on known reserves. We haven’t even begun to explore seriously for additional lithium reserves. There is going to be more found.

        • Matt

          But still cheaper to use what is already concentrated in the salt beds.

      • nuvi

        Do you think we could extract lithium (and other useful stuff) from the brine leftover from desalination plants?

        • Calamity_Jean

          Very probably, but would it be profitable?

    • Rich

      We’re already damaging oceans at an alarming rate. I would want exhaustive environmental impact studies before someone decides to build Lithium extraction platforms on our oceans.

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