Ten years ago, it would have been unforeseeable to truly understand how reliable we would become on lithium powered smart devices and electric vehicles. Back then, Western Australia only had one lithium mine in operation and the mineral sparked little interest as compared to the fossil fuel industries such as oil and LNG.
In fact, up until recently our exports of hard rock spodumene (lithium ore) was negligible as compared to the South American lithium brine produces in Chile and Argentina.
Fast forward a decade and we have seen unprecedented fall in oil and significant interest in renewable energy – including the lithium battery storage behind it all.
As of 2019, Western Australia has received about $4 billion worth of investment into lithium production and we are now contributing to over 50% of the world’s total lithium supply. Not a bad effort considering most of the highest-grade hard rock spodumene (a preference over the brine form due to superior refining properties) comes from the small regional town of Greenbushes in Western Australia.
Whilst WA is now doing most of the heavy lifting with regards to mining the desired mineral, most downstream value-adding activities such as refining, and battery manufacturing still occurs in China and other Asian nations. This is set to change, however, with several Lithium Hydroxide Refineries currently under construction in Western Australia, securing more of the value chain within the state over the next five years.
The Association of Mining and Exploration Companies is forecasting that the global lithium value chain will be worth over $2 trillion in the next 6 years. There have been a number of Lithium Hydroxide projects given the green light, including Tianqi and Covalent both building Lithium Hydroxide plants in Kwinana, as well as American owned Albermarle investing in a refinery in Kemerton.
In addition to this foreign investment, the Government has contributed $25 million to fund the Future Batteries Industries Cooperative Research Centre In Perth (FBICRC).
With all this interest into our valuable resources, Western Australia has the potential to become a significant player in the next generation of energy storage.