Can you describe the operations at Albemarle’s Silver Peak plant?

Yes, of course. The Silver Peak plant is located in Nevada, where natural brines have dissolved lithium out of sedimentary rocks and volcanic ash over tens of thousands of years. We use a sustainable production approach, pumping the salty brine from below the surface into ponds to further concentrate and purify the lithium, which can be up to fifty times more concentrated by the time it goes through our pond system. This approach relies on solar power without the need for other chemicals or additional energy. Finally, we convert the lithium into lithium carbonate on site. Silver Peak has been in operation since the 1960s to produce lithium carbonate.

What is the current level of production at Silver Peak?

Historically, Albemarle has produced around 3,000-3,500 metric tons of lithium carbonate per year. However, we are making a significant investment to double recent wellfield capacity to reach a sustainable production of approximately 7,500 metric tons per year of lithium carbonate equivalent. This level of production could support approximately 100,000 electric vehicles if the lithium carbonate was used to make batteries.

How do you see the applications of lithium evolving?

The electrification of transportation is one of the most prominent uses of lithium, with its application in fully electric or hybrid vehicles, e-bikes, and electrified buses. However, its applications can also be used on a larger scale in enhanced electric power grids by introducing bulk energy storage batteries that can help stabilize fluctuations in conventional power generation as well as accelerate the adoption of renewable electricity generation. Additionally, the Internet of Things can benefit from lithium batteries in untethered devices in homes and businesses that run on batteries. The full extent of applications of lithium batteries is unknown, and its transformational power may lie in tools and sensors that have not yet been invented.

How does the domestic lithium supply compare to the rest of the world?

Albemarle submitted a white paper to the US Department of Energy, outlining our view that the US is far behind Asia in terms of lithium, cathode active materials, and battery production. The US lacks an integrated supply chain that allows for a complete lithium ecosystem from minerals to market. We believe that as a country, we must catch up to our competitors by constructing our own ecosystem with a localized value chain. Albemarle is in a strong position to help, given our expansion plans at Silver Peak, and we hope to see more local investment. The incubator effect that occurs when the elements come together to create a localized market not only accelerates adoption but also provokes invention and seeds potential industry disruption. The lithium-ion battery market is in its early days, so leaders today will shape how the industry advances.

How does Albemarle think about the carbon footprint of the lithium industry?

Sustainability is foundational to Albemarle, and the company is investing in technologies to use water more efficiently and transitioning to cleaner forms of energy. We recognize that the upfront emissions associated with manufacturing electronic vehicles are higher than combustion engine vehicles, but the benefits of avoided emissions are many times greater over the use life. It is important that as an industry and society, we are asking these questions about sustainability now rather than waiting to react in the future. For every ton of greenhouse gas generated in the production of lithium, tailpipe emissions are reduced by 50 tons annually. It is a tradeoff that as a society we must consider seriously. Furthermore, our goal is to increase the recovery of lithium for the same amount of energy and chemistry used. By maximizing our lithium recovery, we can use less money and energy to do more.

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