Russia focused on securing stable lithium supply as demand for products grows
The Russian government plans to create conditions for a significant increase in lithium production and lithium products during the next several years.
According to Yuri Gerner, Director General of the Novosibirsk Chemical Concentrates Plant (NCCP), one of the world’s leading manufacturers of the nuclear fuel for NPPs and for research reactors, the majority of global producers of lithium products have their own raw material base, which allows them to significantly save on production costs, however Russia, to date, has experienced serious problems with stable lithium supplies.
According to an official spokesman of Denis Manturov, Russia’s Minister of Industry and Trade, (a person, who is responsible for the development of lithium industry in the Russian government), lack of the domestic raw material base seriously restricts the ability of Russia to produce lithium products at competitive cost.
The situation is aggravated by the ongoing economic crisis in Russia and the devaluation of the national currency – ruble, which results in a significant increase of the cost of raw material.
Still, despite the existing problems, the Russian government is considering the development of the existing lithium fields in Russia, which are located in the Eastern Siberia, Irkutsk region and Yakutia. As part of these plans, feasibility studies of some of the projects have already been completed, while their implementation may be started already in 2016.
In addition to the supplies of raw materials, a particular attention will be paid for the increase of production of lithium-ion batteries in Russia.
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One of such projects is expected to be re-launched by Liotech, a subsidiary of Russia’s nanogiant Rusnano, which involves the resume of the operations of the existing Russian plant for the production of lithium-ion batteries.
The plant was built by Liotech in cooperation with the Chinese Thunder Sky during the period of 2009-2011, while total amount of investments in the project exceeded 13.5 billion rubles (US$300 million).
According to initial plans of Liotech, the design capacity of the plant should be 400 million ampere-hours. Thunder Sky had promised to acquire the 85% stake of the plant, however decided to leave the project at the beginning of 2013. In summer 2014 Liotech decided to suspend its production, due to a significant decline of demand for its production in the domestic market, caused by the financial crisis in Russia.
Still, in recent months the demand for lithium-ion batteries in Russia has started to grow, and in particular from the country’s largest state monopolies and corporations, among which are JSC “Gazprom”, OJSC “Rostelecom”, JSC TVEL and some others.
An interest for the more active use of lithium-ion batteries and the technologies, based on them, has been recently announced by the Russian government. According to an official spokesman of the Russian Ministry of Energy, there are also plans for use of lithium-ion batteries in the design of new technologies, which ensure stable supplies of cheap electricity to isolated settlements of Russia.
In addition, there are also plans for the active use of lithium-ion batteries in the Russian defence industry, and in particular in the production of unmanned vehicles and other combat equipment and weapons.
In the meantime, as part of the plans of the Russian government is the increase of funding of R&D activities in the industry. As part of this, a group of researchers from the Russianh Institute of Solid State Chemistry and Mechanochemistry have designed a new material for lithium-ion batteries, based on nano-sized lithium-manganese oxide. The new material allows to significantly increase the capacity of the battery and its charge rate.
According to researches, lithium-cobalt compound, which serves as the main cathode material has serious disadvantages, among which are high cost (which is mainly due to the use of cobalt), relatively low energy-output ratio and thermal instability. This eliminates its use in large-size batteries, such as electric vehicles.
Researchers have designed an electrode material, based on lithium manganese oxide, which is characterized by higher voltage and increased capacity, due to an opportunity of the extraction of several lithium ions, instead of one from the material.
Eugene Gerden is an international free-lance writer, based in St. Petersburg, who specializes on writing in the field of mining, metals and rare earth metals. ... <Read more about Eugene Gerden>