Mining and the energy storage value proposition

Canada has the enviable position of being relatively rich in natural resources, while having one of the cleanest, low-cost and most reliable electricity grids in the world. However, Canada, along with many other nations, is facing a paradigm-shift in the way electricity systems are built, owned and operated. This modernization of the grid , as well as the electrification of vehicles and continued demand in consumer electronics are expected to create a remarkable market opportunity in energy storage technologies.

According to Navigant Research, the worldwide installed capacity for grid-scale energy storage is expected to grow from 538 MW in 2014 to 21 GW in 2024Footnote 1. This is in addition to the anticipated growth of energy storage requirements in electric vehicles from 5500MW in 2013 to 45 GW in 2024. Combined, this growth will fuel a new market opportunity for the specialized materials that make up the components of the ES system – including vanadium, graphite and lithium. With few local high-quality sources of these essential materials, North American suppliers are in demand.

For mining companies producing these materials in Canada, and materials developers upgrading these materials to battery grade, an opportunity exists to become a reliable supplier of components for the ES technology market. For these companies, the critical question becomes:

“How can I tailor my raw materials to move beyond the commodity market and seize a growing opportunity in the energy storage value chain?”

A key step for many mining companies is to work with a trusted partner, whose expertise in materials development, energy storage technologies and supply chain development can help assess which products are most valued by the marketplace, and determine how to produce those products cost-effectively at the optimal quality.

Lithium, graphite and vanadium are all valuable resources that are currently mined or have the potential to be mined here in Canada. All three components are critical for developing the technologies that store energy for an electrical grid, and other applications such as vehicles and the consumer electronics market. In addition, materials like cobalt, nickel and manganese also play a supporting role in product development.

The challenge for mining companies is that it’s often difficult to determine which technologies or end-users should be their focus and, more specifically, how they need to process their materials in order to meet the needs of those end-users.

Complicating the situation further is the fact that energy storage is a dynamic market experiencing unprecedented growth. New technologies are constantly emerging and each has new specifications for their component inputs. Without a link to bridge the gap from raw material to the end-user, it becomes difficult for a Canadian company to keep informed of the latest opportunities and specifications that their raw materials are required to meet.

“When we work with mining and materials clients, they are given access to a full spectrum of knowledge and expertise,” says Christina Bock, who works with teams of researchers with decades of experience in materials modelling, design and characterization, process optimization, battery design and testing.

In fact, NRC helps clients take raw materials and convert them into market ready materials that can be incorporated into the energy storage supply chain. This is how:

3 steps to develop your raw material for the energy storage value chain

1. Benchmarking

To decide how your product needs to be tailored for the end user, it’s critical to understand the current component specifications. Through patent and literature searches, benchmarking and validation protocols, you can assess the current state-of-the-art requirements. With experts in battery chemistry, and access to the latest information in energy storage, NRC can work with you to benchmark your potential product against existing market products and needs.

2. Transforming: Material Design & Characterization

After setting a benchmark for your product needs, the product’s material composition, structure and design needs to be developed. Removing impurities and processing your product for the end-user can be both time-consuming and expensive. NRC can help you determine the most cost-effective route to a market-ready product.

The process of designing and characterizing your product is integrated and dynamic. By working with NRC, you will have access to a full suite of material characterization analysis methods and experienced researchers to help expedite the process to reach benchmark standards.

3. Testing

Ultimately, to be ready for market, your product needs to meet performance and lifetime testing standards. As new technologies emerge, NRC can work with you to validate your materials will perform in the marketplace, and where standards have not been set for emerging technologies, we can help you develop validation protocol.

With experts that understand the mining industry, along with the current marketplace for batteries in energy storage and electric vehicles, NRC offers a breadth of expertise that is unmatched.

To learn more, join us at our upcoming workshop on developing materials for the energy storage supply chain, at the Québec Mines conference, November 25 in Québec City. Registration is now accepted onsite.

Québec Mines workshop: Canadian raw materials supply chain for the worldwide battery market

Return to footnote 1 referrerResearch Report: Energy Storage for the Grid and Ancillary Services, Navigant Research Q3 2014

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