Panasonic has joined a Schlumberger-led project to extract lithium from underground salt water in a matter of weeks as opposed to that of a year.
U.S. oilfield services company Schlumberger has already started a pilot plant for extracting lithium from underground salt water in Nevada. Panasonic’s role is to test samples of the extracted lithium to determine if it is suitable for electric vehicle batteries.
The Osaka-based company will also provide consultation on points for improvement, reports Nikkei Asian Review.
The new technique proposed by Schlumberger should help ease the shortage the auto industry is currently facing with regard to lithium, cobalt and other minerals used in EV batteries.
According to the Nikkei, the industry standard for recovering lithium is to either refine mineral ore deposits or to dry out brine in evaporation ponds.
In the latter method, the brine comes from underground salt lakes and lithium concentrates are left over after solar evaporation.
But this evaporation pond method typically takes more than a year to produce lithium and it includes large concentrations of impurities.
What Schlumberger has proposed to do is directly extract lithium from brine and thereby shorten the production schedule to just a few weeks.
Having a pilot plant in Nevada further comes with its own set of benefits.
The U.S. state is home to Gigafactory 1, the lithium-ion battery plant Panasonic runs jointly with electric vehicle leader Tesla.
Panasonic is hoping to leverage the Schlumberger project into a lithium source amid a looming shortage of raw materials.
This is significant as lithium-ion battery materials account for 60-70% of the expense needed to manufacture automotive Li-ion batteries.
Moreover, between 30% and 50% of the material costs comes from rare metals like cobalt alone.
Thus creating a procurement structure for rare metals that offers both stable supplies and low costs could prove to be a blessing for battery and EV makers alike.
Panasonic has however disclosed that it will be distancing itself from making any direct investments in the project’s resources.
It will instead partner with U.S. company Redwood Materials to recycle rare metals recovered from used batteries.
Nikkei Asian Review has also found that the Osaka company is planning to roll out a high-capacity battery that is cobalt-free in the next two or three years.
Image and content: Enrique Marcarian-Reuters/Nikkei Asian Review