OPINION: Jadarite feeds Rio Tinto’s lithium battery-powered future – by Matthew Stevens (Australian Financial Review – May 18, 2016)


In 2004, a Rio Tinto exploration team went looking for borates in a place called Jadar on the north-western fringe of Serbia. But the drillers found kryptonite instead. Well, but for the lack of fluorine and a green glow, they did.

What Rio recovered is a unique mineral that has since been named jadarite. And it might yet become pretty important to the company because jadarite is rich in boron and, more critically, lithium.

Lithium is, of course, a music anthem of legend by the desperately divine Nirvana. It is also the Earth’s lightest metal and a source of resilience in heat-resistant glass and ceramics. And, increasingly, it is one of the raw materials fuelling the revolution in battery technologies that is already changing the future of automobiles and will probably change the way we use the traditional electricity grid.

How the rise of batteries is going to shape the bulk minerals and energy markets is the subject of an interesting piece of work published this week by Morgan Stanley. Its starting points are obvious but worth affirming.

It is assessed that battery technologies are evolving rapidly but that lithium-ion cells now sit as the option of the moment. It is assessed too that, over the short to medium term, it will be shifts in the light and commercial vehicle markets that shape the demand curve for batteries.

The Rio view is that domestic Powerwall batteries also loom as another shape-shifter for new energy materials markets. The basic thematic there is that the most efficient way to draw power from established grids increasingly exposed to the flukiness of renewable energy will be to develop efficient domestic power storage capacity.

Morgan Stanley observes that manufacturers will increasingly fund research aimed at sating customer and regulatory demands for lighter, higher energy, longer life battery technologies. As a result, the demand for the raw materials of the revolution in electric power that is in train remains relatively unpredictable.

For the rest of this column, click here: http://www.afr.com/business/mining/jadarite-feeds-rio-tintos-lithium-batterypowered-future-20160517-gox83l