EDITOR: | April 5th, 2021 | 7 Comments

Molten Salt Batteries – Hot but not Flammable

| April 05, 2021 | 7 Comments
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When we first wrote for InvestorIntel on Molten Salt battery technology almost half a decade ago, the technology was already five years in the making, but it has now taken a further five years for it to get traction amongst end-users.

However, in this Third Wave of battery metals, Antimony (the prime component in Molten Salt batteries) has joined the ranks of battery metals and the hunt is on for that scarce commodity, the non-Chinese Antimony miner.

Antimony – Lighting a Fire under the Price

The price of this metal has taken off in recent times on a combination of global shortages caused by the Pandemic and the coup in Burma, long-term underinvestment, declining Chinese production, and the arrival of Molten Salt batteries in the commercial marketplace.

The effect was stunning, with Antimony breaking out of a multi-year malaise and becoming the hottest metal in the last six months (though tussling with Tin for that title).

Mass Storage Devices

The important consideration is that mass storage devices do not even need to be connected to the grid and thus can be in the middle of nowhere bridging the infrastructure gap (and cost) that weighs on emerging economies (and isolated mine sites).

And then there are liquid metal batteries using molten salts. The origin of using these salts for storing energy goes back to the Second World War.

Molten salt is a solid at standard temperature/pressure but enters the liquid phase under elevated temperatures. Liquid metal batteries can be stored indefinitely (over 50 years) yet provide full power in an instant when required. Once activated, they provide a burst of high power for a short period (a few tens of seconds to 60 minutes or more), with output ranging from watts to kilowatts. The high power is due to the high ionic conductivity of the molten salt, which is three orders of magnitude (or more) greater than that of the sulphuric acid in a Lead-acid car battery.

A team of researchers at MIT led by Professor Donald Sadoway worked on a liquid battery system that could enable renewable energy sources to compete with conventional power plants.

The research was put into a commercial venture, called Ambri, which was funded to the tune of $15M by Bill Gates, energy giant Total, the US Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency and Khosla Ventures (run by Sun Microsystems co-founder Vinod Khosla).

What this means for antimony Demand

Each GWh of Ambri batteries requires less than 1% of current annual production of these (calcium and antimony) anode and cathode materials. This is the closest we have to divining how much Antimony that the Ambri product line might consume if it gains traction. Current antimony production is around 170,000 tonnes per annum, implying that a Gigawatt of Ambri cell utilizes 1.7 tonnes of Antimony.

Higher prices are rather a “chicken-and-egg” issue for the likes of Ambri. To be sure of adequate supplies of metal higher prices are needed (probably over $8,000 at least) and yet if they go too high then the viability of the economic equation is cast into doubt.

United States Antimony Corporation (NYSE American: UAMY) – Collateral Beneficiary?

As the main Antimony producer in North America (and we use the word “producer” very generously) this company was finding it hard to get two dimes to rub together in 2020. To add to the woes its long-term CEO (who was in his 80s) died.

The price of the stock started to rise slightly on the Antimony price rally but then…. in February of 2021 it announced an offtake deal with Ambri… then followed a massive financing ($14.3M) with Roth Capital Partners… the stock then soared and the rest is history. The fact that it doesn’t have a proper mine is a mere detail.

Despite all that such is the uplift that Antimony stocks can achieve in a market starved for options in this metal. The only other plays are the gold/silver miner, Mandalay Resources Corporation (TSX: MND | OTCQB: MNDJF) that has Antimony as a byproduct from its Costerfield mine, and Perpetua Resources Corp. (NASDAQ: PPTA | TSX: PPTA) (formerly called Midas Gold – that is controlled by the famed Paulson hedge fund group) but is not in production at its Stibnite Mine.

Conclusion

If Liquid Metal Batteries become the killer application in grid-linked storage (or non-grid linked) then it potentially lights a fire under Antimony demand and pricing.

To mix some metaphors, molten salt batteries have flown under the radar thus far but definitely have a place in the evolving battery universe and hopefully will take the Antimony market along for the ride.


Editor:

Christopher Ecclestone is a Principal and mining strategist at Hallgarten & Company and is based in London. Prior to founding Hallgarten & Company in 2003, ... <Read more about Christopher Ecclestone>


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Comments

  • Jack Lifton

    Christopher,
    Excellent article. Of course it takes me back to 1965 when I worked on molten salt, sodium and lithium sulfur, batteries at Ford Motor’s Scientific Laboratory. That was a non starter due to the weight and temperature requirements under the hood, but they were good high energy density systems. I have followed Prof Sadoway’s molten magnesium battery, since he and I spoke at a conference in Japan a few years ago, and I think it has great promise. Please keep us informed on progress in this very interesting field.

    April 5, 2021 - 11:59 AM

  • Sandeep Sabharwal

    I would like to have more insight in emerging energy solutions, including different battery technologies. Thanks.

    April 5, 2021 - 8:05 PM

  • Kenneth Crimmims

    The First offering, 10.3 million was Feb 1, The Abril deal was announced Feb 9. Then the second offering was placed Feb 11. And of course it takes capital to develop a “proper” mine. But first you have to have the mineral deposit of sufficient size and known quality. https://finance.yahoo.com/news/us-antimony-announces-completion-initial-130000311.html Your passive-aggressive tone about the company cast doubts on your objectivity. Who else is mining and processing Antimony in North America? …….

    April 6, 2021 - 9:57 AM

    • mike dar

      There are a number of shuttered Antimony mines, in the U.S. Canada, Australia and more. Many China bought, just so they could close them and create monopoly. Average cost to China was ><) one might understand where the supply might easily be tripled… the only reason Antimony is priced as high as Copper is the artificial condition of monopoly. Not so much consumption… consumption goes up… mines just get re-opened… it will take quite a rise in consumption to jack up ongoing Antimony prices year on year.
      The previus CEO was a bit of stick in the mud as to direction of the company all antimony… the new managaement is also 'Precisious metals' bound. Obviously it would truly behoove the company to get a good kickoff with 'EV'/Green development money… and with the 25 mill in Shelf which is the price China paid for each mine they wished closed… I see Uamy poised.
      They have, imo only, about 200 mill in the Mexico mine deposits… 1/2 Antimony, 1/2 Gold and Silver… so.. that could be a starting place… or simply buy a mine where politics allows development.
      Worse case the company stock goes back to .30 while having a unknown upward potential. Everyone knows how markets work these days, price must move in one direction or the other, either people buy… or Professionals short the value out of the company.
      We'll see what there is to see.

      April 10, 2021 - 5:38 AM

    • Christopher Ecclestone

      Its not a passive-aggressive tone. Los Juarez is a POOR Sb mine.. Infinitesimal grade. Watley is the gem. Will they advance it? Can they? Remember this company has not been a proper miner for decades as they were always afraid of a pick and shovel. With John gone that’s changing. We shall see.

      April 10, 2021 - 1:11 PM

  • Christopher Ecclestone

    Thanks Mike for your comments. I agree largely with your stance. Things were so bad for so long in the space that, at exactly the wrong moment, the company decided to “go precious” with a low-grade silver/low-grade antimony mine. I will be very surprised if they can provide Ambri with much in the way of real flow of metal.

    You are right on shuttered mines scattered around the world but the Chinese have already blown their brains out on Beaver Brook. Their narrow-minded view that all roasting must be done in China comforts me that they will never take over the world and that their grip on Sb is tenuous and declining. They cannot get out of their own way. They are pretty much regarded as “bad corporate citizens” wherever they go. Not a good rap to have.

    April 10, 2021 - 1:08 PM

  • mike dar

    I’ve some other accommodating ideas as well. One, China has monopoly.. using business models and political- 50% of their production is from Ore outside of their country. This is not needed, China could do the same production with their own ore deposits… Mines… the Chinese have closed down… in China. Which means part of the monopoly structure is in buying everyone else’s ore.
    Of course there are all sort of claims about ‘purity’ and incidental other elements in the different ore bodies… but I fully understand that is all politics,, the Chinese have never told a truth.
    Another note… going by dollars per yard is the only true measure of a ore body. The Mexican mine has somewhere between 200$ and 300$ potential per yard. I will happily listen to any advice about profitability, on per yard, for any metals/elements ‘dug’ from open pit mining and the current methods of separation.
    What is actually ‘low grade’? Profitable… or is it unprofitable?
    Uamy has been taking ‘slag’ and other countries ‘ore’ as China has been doing… lets accept they will continue.
    Now… how much of Antimony is needed for a Gigawatt of Ambri batteries. I keep getting lower and lower total amounts estimates. My original estimates were solely from trying to get a handle on size, volume, of battery cells for what would be >< 30% of area inside a cell needing to be filled with prepared Antimony. I've been picking up, recently, some discussions about weight needed being noticeably different than my own estimates going by volume.. thus mass- weight.
    Regardless of getting into the weeds about mass/Weight we are right back to supply versus demand.
    Uamy can supply from all current sources what Ambri needs… at this time, I figure that will remain a constant if Ambri continues expansion as Ambri wishes to.. for about 2 years.= gigawatt battery construction per year.
    I see this from the drill reports in Mexico, the acquisition as is of 'slag' and buying other's ores, potential ore bodies in America.
    Sure, I fully, after 50 years of buying stocks, understand 'paper sellers', badly run, failed promises from all directions, private public and political. All of which must line up for a ground breaking tech to expand and someone to lead….
    So far, none have happened yet except political imo… keeping the status quo… both tech wise and helping China.
    This all can change.. but will it. We'll see, monopoly always has great funding, great political strength, advanced positions in markets… we'll see….

    April 11, 2021 - 5:58 AM

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