By Larry W. Reaugh – President & CEO of RecycLiCo Battery Materials
It’s been over 20 years since the cold war officially ended, but a new “cold war” is brewing over intellectual property, critical metals and the advancement of technology. The Chinese government has released its latest 5 year plan, which dedicates 4 trillion RMB (equivalent to approx. $634 Billion US) to the research and development of green technology; the American government has dedicated $43 Billion to the same cause.
One of the key technologies that are driving the green tech revolution is lithium-ion batteries. Lithium-ion battery sales are approximately 30,000 tonnes per year, and expected to grow 20-30% per year. Lithium-ion batteries require several critical metals, particularly manganese (63% Electrolytic manganese dioxide), a metal which is 98% controlled by Chinese operations. There is no current production of manganese in North America; consequently there is a substantial crisis in the supply and demand for electrolytic manganese. In fact, electrolytic manganese dioxide is predicted to be the fastest growing segment of manganese production worldwide, predicted to double current demand by 2021.
During a recent Battery Technology Forum and Resource Investment Conference I spoke at in Vancouver, emphasis was placed on the North American production of critical metals like electrolytic manganese. China is the world’s largest producer of rare earth and critical metals and for years has been selling the products inexpensively. However, shifting Chinese interests have resulted in reduced export of these critical metals, which has caused the western world to identify them as “at risk” products. Metals like lithium, manganese, vanadium and graphite will be essential in the growth of new technology and the demand for improved green technology.
This point was further emphasized by Thomas Drolet of Drolet Energy Services at the conference. Drolet believes the ultimate source of energy and renewable energy retention will be the battery. During his presentation at the Battery Technology Forum, Drolet stressed the importance of new battery research and development to supplement the growing demand on the battery sector both from the commercial side for things like electric vehicles and commercially powered electric products, and from the industrial side to support major power infrastructures like hydro-electric dams and nuclear plants. This growth will place enormous pressure on the resource industry, without a supply chain directly linked to North American producers.
In order to remain globally competitive in the green energy field, there must be domestic production of electrolytic manganese. China’s current dominance over the market presents a serious supply threat to the rest of the world. RecycLiCo Battery Materials is the only producer of electrolytic manganese on North American shores in the foreseeable future. With a start date planned for 2014, we expect our production to be able to fill the gap left by the reduced export of Chinese electrolytic manganese. This will allow North America to have a long term domestic supply chain of electrolytic manganese, one that is not at the mercy of a competitor or potential adversary.
The new “cold war” is being fought right now, and North America is going to need domestic suppliers and producers of the critical metals necessary for the green revolution.
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