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Nigeria’s latest lithium find

  • Category
    Geography
  • Published
    13th Jul, 2022

Context

High-grade lithium has been discovered in Nigeria.

High-grade lithium:

  • The Geological Agency described the lithium as high grade because what’s been found has between 1-13 per cent oxide content.
    • Normally exploration begins at levels as low as 0.4 percent.
  • Grade (in per cent) is a measure of concentration of the lithium in the minerals and or rocks that contains it.
    • Therefore, the higher the grade the more the economic viability. Higher grades are very rare for metals like lithium.

About

Lithium:

  • Lithium is a chemical element with symbol Li and atomic number 3.
  • It is a soft, silvery-white alkali metal.
  • Under standard conditions, it is the lightest metal and the lightest solid element.
  • Lithium is highly reactive and flammable, and is stored in mineral oil.
  • It never occurs freely in nature, but only in (usually ionic) compounds, such as pegmatitic minerals, which were once the main source of lithium.
  • Due to its solubility as an ion, it is present in ocean water and is commonly obtained from brines.
  • Lithium metal is isolated electrolytically from a mixture of lithium chloride and potassium chloride.
  • Lithium is a key component used in Electric Vehicle batteries. And India, through its Rs. 18,100- crore PLI scheme is offering incentives for companies to build battery cells locally.
  • China and Hong Kong are the biggest lithium battery suppliers to India. 

Lithium Triangle:

  • Lithium Triangle is an intersection of Chile, Bolivia and Argentina, known for high quality salt flats.
  • Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia, Salar de Atacama in Chile and Salar de Arizaro in Argentina contains over 45%of known global lithium reserves.
  • Beneath Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat lays the world’s greatest lithium deposits.
  • Bolivia, one of South America’s poorest countries, envisions development by harvesting lithium on an industrial scale from underground saltwater brines.
  • It can be mined from rock or processed from brine.
  • Lithium dissolved in underground saline aquifers called “brine”, pumped to surface by wells and then allowed to evaporate in vast knee-deep ponds.

Lithium-ion batteries:

Lithium-ion batteries are generally more expensive but have better performance and are becoming the preferred technology. The different types are:

  • Lithium-cobalt oxide battery: It is used in consumer electronics and is finding application in electric vehicles. It is relatively cheap.
  • Lithium-nickel-manganese-cobalt is a newer, higher performing range of battery chemistry. It is mainly developed for the electronic vehicle market but is finding a wider use because of its increasing cost effectiveness.
  • Lithium iron phosphate, the safest technology with relatively high performance but relatively expensive. It is very popular in China but is likely to become overtaken by Lithium-nickel-manganese-cobalt over the longer term; and
  • Lithium-nickel-cobalt-aluminium oxide developed to reduce cobalt consumption and is known as a solid performer and of reasonable cost. It is also becoming popular outside China.

Global Lithium Production:

  • Greenbushes mine in Western Australia is the largest hard-rock lithium mine in the world. 
  • Global lithium mine production hit a record high of 100,000 tonnes in 2021, a 21 per cent increase over 2020.
  • According to 2020 data, three countries, Australia (40,000 tonnes), Chile (20,600 tonnes) and China (14,000 tonnes) mine about 86 per cent of the world’s lithium.
  • Others are Argentina (6,200 tonnes), Brazil (1,900 tonnes), Zimbabwe (1,200 tonnes), USA (900 tonnes) and Portugal (900 tonnes).

Lithium in Nigeria:

  • In Nigeria, lithium minerals (spodumene and lepidolite) are known to be associated with cassiterite, columbite-tantalite (coltan) and others in the extensive belt of rare metal-bearing rock types called pegmatite.

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