The Rise of Lithium Hydroxide
Lithium and Lithium hydroxide are essential ingredients in modern batteries. These materials have been around for over a decade, but their widespread use is still growing today as technology advances and people rely more on battery power. Lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries are prevalent due to their high energy density and low maintenance requirements.
What is Lithium Hydroxide?
Lithium hydroxide (LiOH) is an inorganic compound that exists as an anhydrous or hydrated solid, both of which are white hygroscopic solids. They are water-soluble and slightly soluble in ethanol. Despite being classified as a strong base, lithium hydroxide is the weakest alkali metal hydroxide known.
Lithium hydroxide Monohydrate produces cathode material for lithium-ion electric vehicle batteries as it offers the best energy balance.
Lithium Hydroxide Synthesis
Lithium hydroxide is synthesized using lithium carbonate and calcium hydroxide in a metathesis reaction. The resulting hydrate is then dehydrated by heating it under a vacuum until it reaches 180 °C.
Li2CO3 + Ca(OH)2 → 2 LiOH + CaCO3
Generally, lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide are the two types of lithium used in electric vehicles and lithium-ion batteries. This lithium is extracted from spodumene ore through hard rock mining, or metallic brines stored in artificial ponds in high arid regions worldwide, primarily in South America.
When brine is the source, water is pumped into the earth, usually at a remote location, to produce brine captured in storage ponds. Natural evaporation occurs over 18-24 months in ideal conditions, and the resulting material is lithium carbonate. The carbonate can then be converted into lithium hydroxide via a chemical process.
The United States currently contributes less than 2% of global lithium supply despite holding 17 percent of global lithium reserves. Ioneer (ASX: INR) is one of the companies better known for its lithium exposure but soon will be the next best mid-cap alternative for boron. The Rhyolite Ridge Lithium-Boron Projects of the company are on a similar timeline to Fort Cady, pending the completion of a BFS.
Properties of Lithium Hydroxide
|Molar Mass||23.95 g/mol (anhydrous) 41.96 g/mol (monohydrate)|
|Appearance||Hygroscopic white solid|
|Density||1.46 g/cm3 (anhydrous) 1.51 g/cm3 (monohydrate)|
|Melting Point||462 °C|
|Boiling Point||924 °C|
|Solubility in Water||(anhydrous:) 12.7 g/100 mL (0 °C) 12.8 g/100 mL (20 °C) 17.5 g/100 mL (100 °C) (monohydrate:) 22.3 g/100 mL (10 °C) 26.8 g/100 mL (80 °C)|
|Solubility in Methanol||9.76 g/100 g (anhydrous; 20 °C, 48 hours mixing) 13.69 g/100 g (monohydrate; 20 °C, 48 hours mixing)|
|Solubility in Ethanol||2.36 g/100 g (anhydrous; 20 °C, 48 hours mixing) 2.18 g/100 g (monohydrate; 20 °C, 48 hours mixing)|
|Solubility in Isopropanol||0 g/100 g (anhydrous; 20 °C, 48 hours mixing) 0.11 g/100 g (monohydrate; 20 °C, 48 hours mixing)|
|Refractive Index||1.464 (anhydrous) 1.460 (monohydrate)|
|Heat Capacity||49.6 J·mol−1·K−1|
China’s Ganfeng Signs a Lithium Hydroxide Supply Agreement with Tesla
Ganfeng Lithium, China’s largest lithium producer, has agreed to supply battery-grade lithium hydroxide to Tesla, a US electric vehicle manufacturer. The deal will run from January 1, 2022, to December 31, 2024, in which Tesla’s purchase orders will determine actual purchase volumes and values.
In 2020, Ganfeng produced 15,000 tonnes of lithium carbonate, 27,000 tonnes of lithium hydroxide, and 1,600 tonnes of lithium metal, with plans to double its lithium hydroxide output by 2021. The firm has signed long-term supply contracts with potential customers such as LG Chem, Volkswagen, and BMW.
At the end of June, the company’s lithium carbonate, lithium hydroxide, and lithium metal capacity was 43,000 t/yr, 81,000 t/yr, and 2,000 t/yr, respectively. It is on track to reach its capacity of more than 200,000 t/yr of lithium carbonate equivalent (LCE) by 2025 and 600,000 t/yr of LCE in the long run.
Applications of Lithium Hydroxide
Lithium hydroxide is primarily used to make lithium-ion battery cathode materials like lithium cobalt oxide (LiCoO2) and lithium iron phosphate. As a precursor for lithium nickel manganese cobalt oxides, it is preferable over lithium carbonate.
Lithium hydroxide is used to remove carbon dioxide from exhaled gas in breathing gas purification systems for spacecraft, submarines, and rebreathers by forming lithium carbonate and water.
2 LiOH + CO2 → Li2CO3 + H2O
The latter, anhydrous hydroxide, is chosen for spacecraft respirator systems because of its smaller mass and lower water output.
Lithium hydroxide, along with lithium carbonate, is an essential intermediate in the manufacture of other lithium compounds, as in the production of lithium fluoride:
LiOH + HF → LiF + H2O
It is used in the formulation of some Portland cement. In pressurized water reactors, lithium hydroxide is used to alkalinize the reactor coolant for corrosion control.
It provides adequate radiation protection against free neutrons.
Where is Boron Sourced
Boron is an increasingly important commodity with significant potential for growth. The largest resources for boron are found in Turkey and mined by Eti Maden, the state-controlled mining extraction company. However, new permits for mining are rare. The latest company to get a permit is the California-based 5e Advanced Materials. 5e has identified the opportunity to capitalize on this market by utilizing its boric acid as a feedstock for producing boron not only for use such as Lithium Hydroxide but also for boron-based advanced materials. The extraction process will be relatively low-footprint and waste-efficient, using in-situ leaching techniques to mine and refine the ore.
Given that global demand for borates currently relies heavily on supplies from Turkey, there is a clear structural opening for increased domestic production of these materials and downstream products. With its Fort Cady asset poised to become one of the leading producers of borate minerals in North America, NASDAQ: FEAM is well-positioned to take advantage of this opportunity and drive significant growth in the coming years.
5E Advanced Materials critical mineral asset is in Fort Cady, California. This asset has the potential to unlock significant value by monetizing boric acid, a material used in many vital applications such as decarbonization transitions. 5E plans to build a 500KsTPY boric acid operation on this site, supported by a secondary production of 5K-7KsTPY lithium carbonate with the expectation to reach run-rate output in the latter half of 2027.
As per a recent report by Davidson, the company, FEAM’s run-rate revenue estimates for 1H25E and 2H27E are $438M and $875M, respectively, supported by the boric acid and lithium carbonate processes, with assumed average selling prices of $1,500/tonne and $25,000/tonne.