Petrolithium, lithium, electric batteries & electronic cars 
Bt Walter Sorochan

Posted March 25, 2018; Updated March 27, 2018. Disclaimer   Information provided is educational and general in nature.

This article initially began as an investigation about lithium and using it to create electronic storage batteries for electronic cars.  But the investigation about lithium had links to graphene as a replacement for lithium.

Author is an independent research writer, has no vested interests and has "no axe to grind!"

Just searching for the truth.

 So now this article includes an update about lithium, petrolithium, graphene and electronic autos.

Update April 24, 2018:

The German company ACI Systems has been selected as the strategic partner,” Juan Carlos Montenegro, head of state-owned company Bolivian Lithium Deposits, or YLB, in developing lithium salt deposits.

He said the joint-venture deal will be inked as soon as possible so that operations can begin in about 18 months. Bolivia’s lithium production lags behind neighboring Chile and Argentina. The South American country had hoped its project at Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat, would produce four times more than what it’s currently producing. Barrera: Bolivia-Germany agreement 2018

There is a rush for rare metals that are used to make electric storage batteries for electronic autos. Lithium has been the essential metal used to store electricity in storage batteries until now. Today there are 60 lithium companies listed on the TSX Venture Exchange.   Badiali Lithium investments 2018

Lithium as an element is very unstable and is found all over the world. Lithium is present in seawater, rocks, soil, as well as oil and gas wells, but commercially viable methods of extracting lithium from ocean water has yet to be developed. It is also found in very small trace amounts in plants and food.  Wiki: lithium

Today most of the usable lithium comes from South America and Australia. These markets have been time intensive ... that is, asleep until now, using antiquated methods to slowly product lithium, taking more than two years to produce quality lithium.  Today, almost over night, petrolithium, a new technology is available that speeds up extraction to just one day, with less cost, less environmental degradation and manual labor. This new technology is anticipated to be being applied to extract lithium found in oil and gas wells, as well as brine mines.

This has caused a stampede among investors to renew contracts for old lithium brine mines to use this new lithium extraction technology.

Lithium Market, as of 2018, is still a very small global market. Lithium demand will reach more than 1 million tonnes by 2025, a 5 fold increase from 2016.

Demand for lithium: [February 20, 2018] In total, about 46 percent of lithium produced goes toward battery production, but other industries also consume the metal — 27 percent is used in ceramics and glass, in medicine to treat bipolar disorder, while 7 percent goes to lubricating greases, cellphones & laptops to name a few of the other end uses for lithium.

Electric autos to replace petro autos:  Some readers may doubt the predictions of Stanford University economist Tony Seba, in his May 30, 2017 research report "Rethinking Transportation 2020-2030", stating that all new cars will be electric by 2025, and hence petrol cars will (start to) vanish in 8 years. Seba states, "what the cost curve says is that by 2025 all new vehicles will be electric, all new buses, all new cars, all new tractors, all new vans, anything that moves on wheels will be electric, globally." Seba also forecasts that "by 2030, within 10 years of regulatory approval of autonomous vehicles (AVs), 95% of U.S. passenger miles traveled will be served by on-demand autonomous electric vehicles owned by fleets, not individuals, in a new business model we call "transport-as-a-service" (TaaS)."  Aribib/Saba: Rethinking transportation 2017  Brooks: Oil patch 2017

Tesla CEO Elon Musk stated, “To produce half a million cars a year … we would basically need to absorb the entire world’s lithium-ion production.” In fact, Tesla’s new Gigafactory in Nevada is projected to use up as much as 17% of the world’s existing lithium supply.   Lazerson: Extracting Minerals From Petroleum Brine 2017 

China has launched a program to replace fossil fuel cars with electronic ones as soon as possible in an effort to counter air pollution.

But in spite of all these predictions about a dramatic change for autos and how we will travel in the future, the demand for lithium and new extraction technology, it is difficult to get a clear picture of the future of lithium production. Almost all of the information, about lithium comes from vested investors, that is often distorted, misleading hype and mubo-jumbo! This author attempts to provide some clarity about lithium and its future.

There are three approaches to getting lithium:

The two traditional methods for extracting lithium have been solar evaporation and hard-rock mining, both considered to be relatively ineffective approaches. Today, a third new technology, petrolithium, is in the process of displacing these two expensive methods.  Here is some detail about all three approaches to getting lithium.

1. Hard Rock Mining

Lithium was mined using a technique called hard rock mining. Hard rock mining started at the early exploration stage.  It was expensive and potentially many deep drill holes need to be drilled into the ground. After months of analyzing the drill data, if promising results are inferred, the best case scenario is more drilling. The goal is a, "discovery," which could make the deposit appear economically viable. More likely, additional exploration dollars and drilling is required. Essentially, hard rock mining takes years to accomplish. But time is what miners don’t have. Hard rock mining is also environmentally dangerous and expensive. Hard rock mining is mostly done in Australia. 

2. Brine Mining

Brine [salt water] mining is a much easier technique than hard rock mining. Geologists have explored areas in desert environments where the sun can evaporate the water from the brine.

lithium drillingLithium is concentrated in salt deposits [brine or salt water] underground. These salt deposits [brine mines] need to be found by drilling down to discover underground brine deposit levels, similar to drilling for oil or gas. When found, and the deposit has sufficient lithium concentration promise of economic development, then holding ponds need to be constructed that are at least a square mile in size.

Under the traditional evaporation method for processing lithium from brine deposits, mineral-rich saltwater [ 200 – 1,400 milligrams per liter of lithium] is pumped up to the surface using drill rigs similar to those used in the oil industry.  It is stored in a succession of holding ponds. Additionally, the technology requires hundreds of acres of land for evaporation ponds, resulting in a significant negative environmental pollution.

lithium storagepondsWhen lithium concentration in the holding ponds reaches optimal levels of around 6 percent, it is then pumped to a recovery plant where unwanted minerals like magnesium — which has most likely also been concentrated to two or three times the lithium concentration level — are filtered out. Lithium is then further processed in a chemical plant to yield various end products, such as lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide.”

Although using this mining process is time consuming, it costs much less than hard rock mining and is faster than rock mining. The conventional extraction of lithium, through the evaporation of brines, can have significant impacts on water resources and environment. This conventional process evaporates water from brines in large ponds (thousands of acres), which are expensive to build and maintain. This one-way movement of water from the ground to the atmosphere can result in significant impacts on groundwater as well as land subsidence. lithium piles Bolivia Furthermore, residual salt waste is collected and stored in massive salt piles that scar the landscape and is a real risk to the environment. The stored open air salt piles are wind absorbed, creating harmful air pollution to birds, wildlife, humans, damage surrounding vegetation and wasting hundreds of acres of land. Be aware that investors seeking funds do not mention these issues.

3. Lithium extracted from oil-gas wells

The idea is to separate the most valuable minerals and salts from the brine water that accompanies petroleum as it is being pulled up to the surface. Among those first valuable minerals in the brine water is lithium carbonate and its byproduct lithium hydroxide. Lithium hydroxide is becoming more popular than lithium carbonate, at least in terms of manufacturing electric vehicle batteries. While lithium hydroxide is more expensive, it can also be used to produce cathode material more efficiently. Since lithium carbonate is still a precursor to lithium hydroxide in most cases, lithium carbonate still has a place in the lithium-ion battery supply chain.  Key: Lithium carbonate/hydroxide 2018 

Long known to contain many valuable minerals, petroleum brine is plentiful in oil and gas wells. However, it has been treated as a byproduct that is either re-injected into the ground or stored in giant tanks after the oil is separated at the wellhead. These traditional disposal methods can cause major environmental issues such as the contamination of drinking water and activating earthquakes.  Lazerson: Petrolithium 2017

Dangers of lithium: Lithium is corrosive and requires special handling to avoid skin contact. Breathing lithium dust or lithium compounds [which are often alkaline] initially irritate the nose and throat, while higher exposure can cause a buildup of fluid in the lungs, leading to pulmonary edema. Workers can and do get sick although mining companies never mention this hazzard. The metal itself is a handling hazard because contact with moisture produces the caustic lithium hydroxide. Lithium is safely stored in non-reactive compounds such as naphtha.  Wiki: lithium

Under normal conditions lithium [in rock or in underground brine] is safe. Lithium metal reacts violently on contact with water and can spontaneously ignite on contact with air. When used as a drug (to treat bipolar disorders and depression) it can cause lithium toxicity and poisoning if too much of it is taken. When used in batteries there are several dangers. The batteries can get very hot and cause burns, and if they overheat they can catch fire or explode. Also if they are overcharged or rapidly charged the electrodes in the cells can fail and the charger can catch fire. If the chemicals inside get out of the battery, chemical burns are a high danger too. There is also a danger that the battery might discharge, which, due to the high power inside them, would give a very powerful shock.  WikiAnswers: lithium safety Electronic battery makers like Musk would appear to have these lithium dangers under control.

So what is petrolithium?

As oilfields age, the ratio of wastewater [brine] rises exponentially. It is estimated that for every unit of oil and gas produced, four to five units of brine are pumped, representing roughly 80 to 100 million barrels of brine in North America every day. This wastewater brine is also known to contain valuable minerals such as lithium, which is in high demand for use in the electric vehicle batteries and smartphone industries.

MGX Minerals Inc, of Vancouver Canada and its engineering partner, PurLucid Treatment Solutions Inc, have developed a new plant processing system [Petrolithium] to extract lithium from oil/gas field sites. Since the oil wells have already been located and drilled, this process speeds up the availability of lithium to several months compared to the old process in Chile [Pumps extract lithium-bearing brine from wells sunk deep below the salt crust and deposit it in evaporation pools. It can take sunlight two or more years to evaporate water in brine [salt water] ponds; then the concentrate is taken to a nearby plant for processing into lithium carbonate.]  MGX Minerals:: Harnessing clean energy

Petrolithium is a new approach that focuses on concentrating lithium and other minerals from abundantly available wastewater (brine) that accompanies oil and gas [O&G] production. The North American Oil & Gas industry generates an estimated 80 -100 million barrels of brine daily [a huge lithium potential]. Jared Lazerson, CEO at MGX Minerals, is quick to acknowledge that O&G sources of lithium are abundant: "We recognized that the oil and [natural] gas sector produces more lithium than anyone in the world, but was throwing it out," he said. "We focused on a technology that could produce lithium in a day, or less than a day, versus the 18-24 months traditional solar evaporation takes," Lazerson said.  Lazerson: Petrolithium 2017

At the heart of MGX's proprietary process is nanotechnology -- advanced nanomaterials, specifically nanofilters, used along with nanoflotation processes and pH. This nanofiltration approach allows the separation of oil, ore, water, and other physical pollutants.

Producing battery-grade lithium carbonate requires the purest form of lithium, but lithium brines contain an abundant amount of magnesium and other associated minerals that need to be separated and removed from lithium. Separating magnesium from lithium brines is crucial in order to produce high-purity lithium carbonate. The separation process is costly, requires additional steps and uses large amounts of electricity.

People have thought that solar evaporation is cheap and the way to go into the future. However, actually it is highly capital intensive [because the evaporation ponds must be very large] and low recoveries of around 40% make such a process highly inefficient and expensive. Imagine running the brine through an advanced filter [petrolithium] in a single day versus flooding a square mile of ponds and canals for up to 2 years just to achieve the same purpose. Solar evaporation just does not compare in terms of efficiency and capital. Petrolithium  proposes to be much cheaper and much faster, up to 700 times as fast as traditional solar evaporation.  

All this excitment in extracting lithium from earth sources has caused hysteria in the lithium business.   Badiali Lithium investments 2018 Geologists still perceive actively drilling holes on a speculative basis to find more productive underground brine sources. But it will be less expensive to abstract lithium from oil and gas wells than to do so from brine evaporating ponds.  Meanwhile, already producing brine mines are now attempting to attract funding to get petrolithium companies to install plants when the petrolithium plant technology is validated.  So we have a beehive of activity in the lithium business full of unvalidated claims and speculators trying to make a fast dollar!

As of March 14, 2018, there are at least 12 companies trying to develop the chemical secret of petrolithium technology.   Inspired Investment News 2018 They are all competing to be the first to do so. Some, like MGX Minerals (CSE:XMG), claim to have done so in the lab  McEachern: Rapid lithium extraction 1017 and are about ready to launch their small capacity demo petrolithium plant in Calgary, Alberta. This author was unable to verify with a photo that such a plant in Calgary is actually working. Another claim has been made by Enertopia in collaboration with Genesis Water Technologies in Clayton Valley Nevada project. A third company, Pure Energy Minerals (TSXV:PE), is also claiming to be working on a petrolithium process; but as of this date, has not built a processing plant in Nevada  Inspired Investment News 2018 In summary, what we have is miner and potential petrolithium companies advertising and soliciting for funds for their companies.  The internet is flooded with cutthroat investment claims seeking speculators and funding for their projects. It seems prudent to this author that the least risk investment in the lithium industry would be in petrolithium plants, most of which are still in the development stage.

An example of this new lithium excitement is Pure Energy Minerals and Tesla announcement, in 2015, of an early stage supply agreement whereby Tesla would buy an undisclosed amount of lithium from the company within an certain time frame.   Fehrenbacker Clayton Valley Nevada mine 2016  Other speculators [MGX Minerals] that have promising petrolithium plants are signing contracts with existing brine mines to install their petrolithium plants when these are ready.

While petrolithium projects are abounding, it is not just lithium that is in high demand.  Metals like cobalt and graphene for electric car batteries are also in high demand.

Unfortunately, there is an upper limit to the utility of lithium-ion batteries. According to Badiali   Badiali Lithium investments 2018, "unlike computing speeds, which double on a regular basis, lithium batteries have a cap functionality. The most efficient of these batteries can hold about two times the electricity as the current version. That’s it. They are limited by the very chemistry that makes them so useful today. That limits lithium’s dominance as the battery metal." In addition to all this, the availability of petrolithium technology to extract readily available and less expensive lithium from oil and gas wells will compete with brine salt mines in South America and other parts of the world. Then there is the graphene technology being fine tuned to replace lithium in car batteries. All these factors will eventually create a surplus of lithium and send the future price of lithium down. Investors beware! All this will play out by 2020 or sooner.

New battery technology: There is secret competition among electric car manufacturers to develop a working low cost electronic storage battery to replace lithium ones. There are many options.  For example, researchers have designed a new lithium-based battery that could hold up to five times more energy than current lithium-ion models. The design, reported in the journal Nature, saves weight by reacting lithium with oxygen drawn from the air instead of ions encased in the battery. This special air battery, to be used in phones, laptops and electric vehicles, would require charging less often. Salehi-Khojin: New air lithium battery 2018

Another example: Collaboration between a Spanish auto battery company Graphenano and its Chinese partner Chint has led to a graphene battery that surpasses any current lithium ion battery, and it could soon replace batteries in domestic use and electric cars.  Gallego: Super Graphene battery 2016

Current auto battery used by Musk: Musk's electric car, Model S, uses Panasonic’s cylindrical 18650 format, basically an oversized AA battery and the most common lithium-ion battery type in the world.  Tingwall: Musk car battery 2014 Musk is hoping that scientists will come up with a new and better electric storage battery.

Graphene batteries competing with lithium:  Graphene electric storage batteries are being experimented with all over the world.

Musk came out with a proclaimation in 2014 that he was working on a graphene battery that could nearly double the range of the Model S to 500 miles before recharging. Although he did not specify the substitute for lithium, the implication was that it would be graphene battery. The cost of this emerging technology at the present time has come down from 2010; it is very expensive .... graphene the size of a postage stamp would cost thousands of dollars.  McLeod: Graphine battery costs 2017  However, a Spanish company now produces it in massive large amounts. The current cost was high because graphene was not mass produced and production users of lithium do not want to discard and rebuild their existing manufacturing plants.

Although Musk is moving as fast as he can on the new graphene battery technology, he is getting stiff competition from another California electric car maker, Henrik Fisker, and also from Spanish researchers who have linked with German electronic auto makers  Stone: Spanish new graphene battery 2016. As of 2018, it is not clear whether Musk is developing the graphene battery or negotiating for it with other companies.

According to Musk's competitor, Henrik Fisker, Fisker's new electric cars will be powered by a long-range battery that uses graphene capacitors to extend its range and life and reduce charging time. The company is targeting a 400-mile driving range between charges.  Fisker: new EV with graphene-enhanced battery  Muoio: Fisker new graphene auto 2016

A Spanish company, Graphenano, claimed to introduce a "graphene polymer battery in 2016 that could allow electric vehicles to have a maximum range of a staggering 800 kilometers [497 miles]. The battery can also be charged in just a few minutes. The battery could discharge and charge 33 times faster than a standard lithium ion battery. It also does not exhibit memory effect, a phenomenon in which charging a battery multiple times lowers its maximum energy potential. Best of all, independent analyses by TÜV and Dekra have demonstrated that the batteries are safe and are not prone to explosions like lithium batteries, and tests conducted by the companies have shown that, after being short-circuited, the battery is able to return to work with 60% of the load."  Gallego: Super Graphene battery 2016 But the first commercial application of the graphene battery in autos has not happened.

So.... the significance of graphene batteries is that this new revelation about a new electric auto battery will become a business threat to the lithium market. Lithium speculators are frantically seeking funding for many obsolete lithium mines and petrolithium extraction from oil and gas from going out of business. There is a new tech kid on the block for electronic autos and the kind of batteries cars will use in the very near future. Although the electronic car industry appears to be temporarily hibernating, the electronic car batteries picture should become clearer by 2019.  We will still need lithium but not in as great quantities. 

Companies [MGX Minerals] that want to make the next generation of batteries are looking at other substances, like graphene and zinc to replace lithium. This will also effectively put a cap on lithium demand.

And then there is the real problem of disposing of lithium batteries in automobiles that no one wants to talk about.  In case you did not know, auto lithium batteries will probably last for about 8 to 10 years at best and then need to be replaced or disposed of.  Although this will be a huge problem, nano-technology may be on the verge of solving such a future crisis.

New Recharge technology: Zheng Chen, a nano-engineer at the Sustainable Power and Energy Center at the Jacobs School of Engineering at UCSD in San Diego, has discovered a way to recharge old lithium batteries in a LAB. This could lower the price of raw lithium and its demand; however, this promising technology is in the experimental stage of development. This technology can easily recharge small cellphone batteries in a lab but recharging large electric car lithium batteries will need more research time. This technology is important as current lithium car batteries are huge and would need to be replaced every 8 to 10 years. We would eventually have a surplus waste of dead lithium batteries polluting the world.   Chen: Recharging used lithium batteries 2018es 2018

Another possible solution to "dead used up" lithium batteries is being worked on in China. China has plans to set up 4 lithium battery recycling plants to deal with this issue and protect the environment. Although details of this are skimpy as of 2018, China is well ahead of USA and other countries in this movement.. Barrera: Lithium-ion Battery Recycling Plant 2018 

Japan's auto company, 4R Energy, a joint venture between Nissan and Sumitomo (TSE:8053), announced on March 29, 2018, that it will start selling rebuilt replacement lithium-ion batteries for the first-generation Leaf in May. The batteries will be produced at the new factory in Namie.  Barrera: 2018

It should be obvious from this review article that scientists are very close to replacing lithium in electric car batteries.

Did the author make this topic easy to understand? Your feedback is most appreciated: E-mail to: Author Walter Sorochan

To return to:   web-site main page


Arib James and Saba Tony, Rethinking Transportation 2020-2030, Amazon paperback, 2017.  Aribib/Saba: Rethinking transportation 2017

Balpataky Katherine, "$28.8M for Alberta Cleantech," Walter Canada, November 06, 2017.   Balpatsky: Canada clean water 2017

Barrera Priscila, "Bolivia to Join Forces with ACI Systems in Billion-dollar Lithium Deal," Lithium Investing News, April 23, 2018.  Barrera: Bolivia-Germany agreement 2018

Barrera Priscila, "BYD Set to Open Lithium-ion Battery Recycling Plant," Investment News, March 22, 2018.   Barrera: Lithium-ion Battery Recycling Plant 2018ant 2018

Barrera Priscila, "Nissan Opens Plant to Give Second Life to Lithium-ion Batter," Investment News, March 28, 2018.  Barrera: 2018

Badiali Matt, "The Lithium Boom Will Bust Sooner Than You Think," Banyan Hill Investments, March 23, 2018.   Badiali Lithium investments 2018

Brooks Allen, "Musings From the Oil Patch," Source:Rethinkx, Energy Musings, May 30, 2017.  Brooks: Oil patch 2017

Chen Zheng, "UCSD professor devises way to recycle lithium-ion batteries," San Diego Union-Tribune, March 18, 2018.   Chen: Recharging used lithium batteries 2018

Fehrenbacker Katie, "A lithium gamble that could win big for Tesla," Fortune, March 29, 2016.  Fehrenbacker Clayton Valley Nevada mine 2016

Fisker Henrik, "Fisker unveils new EV with graphene-enhanced battery,"  Fisker: new EV with graphene-enhanced battery

Gallego Jelor, "Scientists Develop a Better Graphene Battery," Graphenano, March 7, 2016  Gallego: Super Graphene battery 2016

Inspired Investing News, "Magnesium Levels Key to Improving Lithium Extraction Process," March 14, 2018.  .  Inspired Investment News 2018

Key Amanda, "What is lithium carbonate?" Investment news, March 20, 2018. Key: Lithium carbonate/hydroxide 2018

Lazerson Jared, "Petrolithium: Extracting Minerals From Petroleum Brine," MGX Minerals, April 3, 2017.   Lazerson: Petrolithium 2017

Lazerson Jared, "Extracting lithium -- today's gold -- from oilfields," S&P, New York --2 Feb 2018.   Lazerson: Today's gold 2018

Lazerson Jared, "Petrolithium: Extracting Minerals From Petroleum Brine," MGX Minerals Monday, April 3, 2017.  Lazerson: Extracting Minerals From Petroleum Brine 2017

McLeod Charlotte,"What Factors Impact Graphene Cost?" Graphine Investing news, July 6, 2017.   McLeod: Graphine battery costs 2017

McEachern Preston, "First Come First Served - Maiden Technical Report on Rapid Lithium Extraction Process Demonstrates Potential for Near-Term Commercialization," Rockstone Research, Report 21, April 27, 2017.  McEachern: Rapid lithium extraction 1017

MGX Minerals Inc.. "Harnessing Clean Technology for a New Era in Lithium Mining," CleanTech Investment news,  MGX Minerals:: Harnessing clean energy

Muoio Danielle, "Henrik Fisker is using a revolutionary new battery to power his Tesla killer," Business Insider, October 16, 2016.  Muoio: Fisker new graphene auto 2016

Salehi-Khojin Amin, "Lithium-air battery could boost electric car longevity," Cosmos, March 26, 2018.  Salehi-Khojin: New air lithium battery 2018

Rosen len, "A New Use for Oil Sands Wastewater: Extracting Lithium for Batteries," Twenty First Century Tech, January 12th, 2017.  Rosen: petrolithium plant 2017

Srone Mike, "A Spanish Company Makes Bold Claims About a New Graphene Battery. Experts Say There’s No Evidence Graphenano’s promises to revolutionize storage are met with skepticism," Energy Storage, March 22, 2016.  Stone: Spanish new graphene battery 2016

Tingwall Eric, "Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s Next Big Disruption Isn’t a New Car, It’s a New Battery," October 27, 2014.  Tingwall: Musk car battery 2014

WikiAnswers, "What is dangerous about lithium?"  WikiAnswers: lithium safety

Wikipedia, "Lithium." a href="">Wiki: lithium