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Nigeria’s latest lithium find: some key questions answered

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Excessive-grade lithium has been found in Nigeria. In 2019 the full manufacturing quantity of lithium, not excessive grade, in Nigeria reached 50 metric tons That is small in comparison with Zimbabwe which produced 1,200 metric tons the identical yr. The Dialog Africa’s Wale Fatade requested geologist Ibrahim Garba for his insights.

What’s lithium and why is it vital?

The Geological Company described the lithium as excessive grade as a result of what’s been discovered has between 1% – 13% oxide content material. Usually exploration begins at ranges as little as 0.4%. Grade (in %) is a measure of focus of the lithium within the minerals and or rocks that accommodates it. Due to this fact, the upper the grade the extra the financial viability. Increased grades are very uncommon for metals like lithium.

Lithium is a metallic mineral in very excessive demand by manufacturing industries.
Seven years in the past the majority of demand for lithium was break up between ceramics and glasses (35%) and greases, metallurgical powders, polymers, and different industrial makes use of (over 35%). Lower than 30% was for batteries. However by 2030, batteries are anticipated to account for 95% of demand.

Lithium-ion batteries are typically dearer however have higher efficiency and have gotten the popular expertise. The different sorts are:

  • Lithium-cobalt oxide battery. It’s utilized in client electronics and is discovering software in electrical autos. It’s comparatively low cost.

  • Lithium-nickel-manganese-cobalt is a more moderen, larger performing vary of battery chemistry. It’s primarily developed for the digital car market however is discovering a wider use due to its growing value effectiveness.

  • Lithium iron phosphate, the most secure expertise with comparatively excessive efficiency however comparatively costly. It is vitally well-liked in China however is more likely to turn out to be overtaken by Lithium-nickel-manganese-cobalt over the long term; and

  • Lithium-nickel-cobalt-aluminium oxide developed to scale back cobalt consumption and is called a stable performer and of affordable value. Additionally it is changing into well-liked exterior China.

Lithium-ion batteries are utilized in cell phones, computer systems, electronics, power storage methods and electrical autos. The forecast is that they are going to dominate the lithium market over the subsequent a long time. Nevertheless, there are various various kinds of lithium-ion battery for various functions.

Lithium and most lithium minerals are mined together with different high-value metallic minerals akin to tin, niobium-tantalum (columbite-tantalite) and uranium (in pyrochlore).

Greenbushes mine in Western Australia is the most important hard-rock lithium mine on the earth. Tantalum can also be mined there. In 2019, the mine’s output capability doubled to 1.34 million tonnes of lithium concentrates yearly after a second processing plant was added.

International lithium mine manufacturing hit a document excessive of 100,000 tonnes in 2021, a 21% enhance over 2020 (82,500 tonnes).

As a result of rising curiosity in clear power, the demand for lithium has skyrocketed as most international locations draw plans to section out fossil gasoline autos and swap to zero emission electrical autos. The underlying demand for lithium is predicted to rise proportionately to the manufacturing and gross sales of these autos. Lithium manufacturing globally grew from 28,100 metric tons in 2010 to 86,000 in 2019. The problem can be in supplying the market with sufficient lithium.

Three international locations, Australia (40,000 tonnes), Chile (20,600 tonnes) and China (14,000 tonnes) mine about 86% of the world’s lithium. Others are Argentina (6,200 tonnes), Brazil (1,900 tonnes), Zimbabwe (1,200 tonnes), USA (900 tonnes) and Portugal (900 tonnes), in response to 2020 information.

The biggest importers of lithium are South Korea, China, Japan, US and Belgium.

Lithium value was averagely US$2,000 per metric ton in 2002 rising to US$18,000 in 2018.

For the second the discover in Nigeria merely factors to the potential of Nigerian pegmatites for lithium useful resource. Full exploration can be crucial.

The lithium provide chain entails changing lithium minerals to lithium concentrates and lithium hydroxides.

What in regards to the lithium discover in Nigeria?

The primary and most vital level is that the invention doesn’t equate to a industrial discover. In actual fact, it ought to be taken solely as a primary step within the lengthy journey to be established as a commercially viable deposit that may be mined and extracted to a kind that may be bought to the patron.

In actuality just one or two of lots of of such ‘discoveries’ (finds) could find yourself being a mine after going by the various levels of exploration and growth. Solely then can a worth be connected to such a ‘discovery’.

It could possibly take 5 – 10 years to completely discover a small to medium sized deposit and take it to manufacturing. That is supplied there are not any unexpected technical, monetary and different challenges.

Solely in few very distinctive and extremely viable conditions we are able to count on a lesser time-frame.

Fairly plenty of elements could make or mar the event journey. These embody proving financial grades and volumes (or tonnages) of the mineral ores, beneficial enabling fiscal and different regulatory environments, value of extraction expertise, market forces and different logistical and sociopolitical points.

An financial quantity of lithium steel is understood to be related to two minerals: spodumene and lepidolite. Lithium is a component and in nature tends to pay attention sufficiently within the two minerals, spodumene and lepidolite. In any other case it’s going to happen dispersed in minerals however not adequate sufficient to be of financial consideration. They’re often present in specialised rocks known as uncommon metal-bearing pegmatites and greisens.

The seek for financial deposits of lithium must be focused in these rocks.

In Nigeria, lithium minerals (spodumene and lepidolite) are identified to be related to cassiterite, columbite-tantalite (coltan) and others within the in depth belt of uncommon metal-bearing rock sorts known as pegmatite.

These rock pegmatites stretch from the Wamba space, Nasarawa State, north central; by Egbe-Isanlu, Kogi State; north central, Ondo-Ekiti States, south west; to the Ife-Ilesa, Osun State; south west.

One other belt within the western half of Nigeria, stretching from Zamfara and Kaduna States, north west; by Niger and Kwara States, north central; and Oyo State, south west; is understood to host the uncommon metal-bearing pegmatites.

Some have additionally been present in Obudu, Cross River State, southern Nigeria.

Inside these belts, dozens of occurrences of the uncommon metal-bearing pegmatites are recorded and a few are identified to have lithium-bearing minerals. Nevertheless, there will not be but any commercially viable deposits established or developed. That is regardless of the latest wave of curiosity proven by many explorers in response to the worldwide demand for lithium.

Are there environmental issues?

All mineral mining, particularly metallic minerals and hydrocarbons like petroleum, tar sands and coal are related to environmental air pollution. However there are measures that may be taken to minimise and mitigate these.

Measures embody ensuring that discharges and mine waster are effectively deliberate for. One other is the restoration of the bottom (the bodily, fauna and flora) affected by mining for future use.

There are additionally mining legal guidelines and rules that mining operators are required to observe. They set down penalties operational breaches. Nevertheless, in a rustic like Nigeria most of the rules aren’t adopted and enforcement is weak.

Additionally environmental affect assessments must be made earlier than any mining can begin.

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