Battery storage players Wärtsilä, Honeywell look to support sustainable lithium-ion value chain

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Wärtsilä and Schneider Electric’s reference design is for lithium mines extracting from brine at high altitudes, without access to grid electricity. Image: Wärtsilä.

A couple of new initiatives to support increased, sustainable production of lithium batteries  for electric vehicles and for the grid have been launched by names that will likely be familiar to readers.

A reference design for low-carbon energy systems which could power lithium mines in remote locations has been created through a partnership between Finland-headquartered energy technology company Wärtsilä and France-headquartered energy and automation solutions group Schneider Electric. Meanwhile, Honeywell has been contracted to support the development of a cobalt mining facility in Australia, which is targeting the production of 3,500 tonnes of the metal annually.

Wärtsilä said yesterday that the off-grid mining power system design is an end-to-end solution which leverages microgrids and renewable energy solutions for lithium mines at high altitude that deliver 20 kTons per year of lithium carbonate equivalent (LCE) from salt lakes.

The design aims for reduced Capex investment requirements and total low cost of ownership, combined with a high level of safety. Power systems for mines are traditionally designed by engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) partners or mining sector companies and are often focused on selecting individual pieces of equipment rather than going for a whole system design.

By taking the knowhow and experiences of the two technology providers, Wartsila and Schneider Electric said that their design can help optimise cost and reliability, taking into account an understanding of the limitations and advantages of technologies involved.

Three natural gas engine-based generators can meet the calculated overall load demand of about 20MW. In a white paper co-authored by the two companies, it is pointed out that lithium mines are often located in the vicinity of natural gas deposits and natural gas is both lower emissions and easier to transport than diesel, which is often the de facto fuel selected for such projects to date.

The Wartsila-Schneider Electric white paper lays out the full system design architecture and explains the rationale for the decisions made. It can be downloaded here.

Honeywell assisting efforts to streamline Australian cobalt mine’s path to production

Meanwhile, Honeywell has said earlier this month that it will provide control, automation and energy optimisation solutions to the Broken Hill Cobalt Project in New South Wales, Australia.

The 24 square mile exploration project is being developed by Australian company Cobalt Blue Holdings, and aims to create an ethically-sourced and environmentally sustainable source of cobalt, with safe working conditions for miners.

Honeywell is helping Cobalt Blue go from pilot stage to production at the facility, offering energy optimisation solutions, consulting and engineering services, process control and engineering standards and templates as well as managing the mine’s enterprise performance. The US-headquartered automation company will also assist with the development of a modular unit for concentrating cobalt.

“We’re committed to working with rare-earth and green energy mineral partners such as Cobalt Blue to deliver sustainable products that help organizations around the globe achieve their carbon neutrality goals. Our technologies are ideally suited for this purpose, from automating operations to ensure a rapid response to evolving energy needs, to giving customers the capability to interpret data to make real-time decisions related to energy management and renewable energy systems,” Honeywell Process Solutions’ APAC region director of growth, and Pacific region sales director Andrew Hird said.

Increasing sustainable lithium extraction capabilities and creating more ethical supply chains is a hot topic worldwide. The US government has said that it is committed to increasing the lithium resources available to its domestic industry, a key factor in efforts to develop supply chain robustness, while reducing the use of problematic or increasingly scarce materials like cobalt and nickel is also a priority. Meanwhile, the Upper Rhine Rift region of Germany is thought to hold Europe's largest lithium resources and a partnership announced in July last year is looking to develop CO2-neutral extraction.   

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