The need to achieve energy autonomy – pv magazine International

Excerpt from pv magazine 08/2022

Around the town of Montealegre, in northern Portugal and very close to the Spanish border, is what is now considered the largest lithium deposit in Europe. This year, the Portuguese government has undertaken a series of actions to promote the development of the so-called Romano mine, in which the company Lusorecursos Portugal Lithium appears as the future operator. However, the proposed lithium mining operation is still mired in controversy and there is no clear date for its materialization.

Meanwhile, across the Spanish border, several lithium mining projects have been proposed in the province of Cáceres, some 400 kilometers south of Montealegre and still close to the border between the two Iberian nations. . Two lithium mines, San José Valdeflórez and Las Navas, in the Extremadura region, are said to be about to receive concessions for their exploitation activities, although one project is more advanced than the other. In short, Spain and Portugal have the two greatest opportunities in Europe for the extraction of lithium and its further transformation into essential materials for the battery industry.

For now, Spain seems more advanced in the exploitation of these lithium resources. Alongside the development of mining operations, plans for two battery giga-factories have been announced in the past two months: one in Sagunto, near the city of Valencia, developed by Spanish carmaker Seat and its parent company Volkswagen, and another in Navalmoral de la Mata, in the Extremadura region north of Cáceres. This was planned as part of a partnership between the Chinese group Envision and the Spanish company Acciona Energía.

San Jose Valdeflorez

One of the Spanish mines, San José Valdeflórez, proposed near the city of Cáceres, went from being awarded by competitive bidding to the company Valoriza Minería, a subsidiary of the Spanish group Sacyr, to the hands of the Australian mining company Infinity Lithium, which took a 75% stake in the project.

This year a new company was created, Extremadura New Energies (ENE), a subsidiary of Infinity, which was created so that the project would be managed by a Spanish company, with some guarantee that the added value generated would remain in Cáceres and in the surrounding area. . A representative of ENE told pv magazine that the project “is currently at an initial stage and the administrative process has not yet started.”

Various problems regarding environmental permits and urban planning regulations from the City Council of Cáceres have paralyzed the project. And ENE has proposed changes to the project to address local environmental concerns: the mine will be entirely underground, rather than previous plans for an open-pit mine, and it will be powered by renewable energy, potentially even producing its own green hydrogen.

ENE says 500 million euros ($507 million) will be invested in the construction phase of a processing plant, and a further 100 million euros in the underground mine itself – a two-year process creating some 700 jobs.

The San José Valdeflórez project is now expected to produce its first ton of lithium hydroxide at the end of 2025, and then be operational for nearly three decades. Recent estimates put the project’s annual revenue at 340 million euros ($347 million) and a minimum tax return of almost 86 million euros per year, to be split equally between the regional government of ‘Extremadura and the Spanish Treasury. These estimates were made by ENE based on a lithium price of €17,000/tonne ($17,350), while the current price is around €70,000/tonne.

Las Navas

The other Spanish project, the Las Navas lithium mine, is more advanced. The company Lithium Iberia is developing the mine as well as the lithium and nickel processing plants of the Aguas Blancas mine in Monesterio, all located in Extremadura.

In addition, Phi4tech, a group of nanotechnology research and development companies, is promoting a battery cell pilot plant in the municipality of Noblejas, Castilla La Mancha. Together, this would create the first integrated energy storage manufacturing project in Europe.

As in the previous case, Lithium Iberia also had to update its plans to obtain the approval of regional authorities. A positive response is expected before the end of the year. In this case, the operating life is now 30 years, compared to 19 years initially planned last year.

The investment cost of this project is 650 million euros (663.5 million dollars) and it is accompanied by the creation of more than 1,600 direct and indirect jobs. Scheduled to start operations in early 2025, Lithium Iberia expects an average annual production rate of 1.2 million tonnes of ore and over 30,000 tonnes of battery-grade lithium hydroxide.

In June 2021, an agreement was announced between Lithium Iberia and Phi4tech for the supply of lithium hydroxide for the creation of a battery factory. The project could be inaugurated 20 months after the start of mining works, in five initial modules of 2 MW of manufacturing capacity each, requiring an investment of 80 million euros (81.6 million dollars) and bringing the creation of 200 direct jobs. According to later estimates, the plant should reach 6 GW of production in 2024 and continue to scale up to a maximum capacity of 10 GW, creating 500 direct jobs and requiring an investment of 400 million euros (408.3 million euros). dollars).

Phi4tech aims to create a state-of-the-art cobalt-free battery and supercapacitor hybrid that provides fast charging, high durability, and extremely favorable chemistry with the best possible charge/discharge ratio.

Battery manufacturing

Spain currently hosts little battery manufacturing capacity, and what exists is only the assembly of battery cells made in Asia, which today produces around 70% of the world’s batteries. However, alongside plans to mine and process lithium materials, major energy companies and automakers are also moving forward with plans that could bring up to 10% of the world’s battery manufacturing capacity into Spain.

In May 2021, German automaker Volkswagen and its Spanish subsidiary Seat received the go-ahead to build a giant factory in Sagunto, Valencia, which will cost 3.5 billion euros ($3.57 billion). . During its launch event, attended by the President of the Spanish Government Pedro Sánchez, it was stated that the objective was to have a capacity of 40 GWh, with a start date for operations in the first quarter of 2023, while mass production will begin in 2026.

Note that the construction of a solar power plant has also been announced, which will occupy 250 hectares (more than the battery factory itself), which in a first phase will provide 20% of the total energy of the gigafactory.

A month after this announcement, the Chinese group Envision and the Spanish company Acciona Energía said they had reached an agreement to build a second battery gigafactory in Navalmoral de la Mata, Extremadura, as part of a promotion project. of electric mobility in which a consortium of 12 of the companies of 10 Spanish autonomous communities will participate, mobilizing an investment of 1 billion euros (1.02 billion dollars). This plant will have an initial capacity of 10 GWh and will create 3,000 new jobs when fully operational in 2025. Both projects were submitted to the PERTE VEC (Proyecto Estratégico para la Recuperación y Transformación Económica del Vehículo Eléctrico y Conectado) electric vehicle value chain program promoted by the Spanish government with European funds.

A third initiative, Basquevolt, is promoted by the Cooperative Research Center for Alternative Energies (CIC energiGUNE) in collaboration with the government of the Basque region and industrial partners, including the Spanish utilities Iberdrola and Enagás, among others. It aims to start production of solid-state lithium battery cells in 2027, with the goal of reaching 10 GWh of capacity. Basquevolt says its technology will enable the mass deployment of electric transport, stationary energy storage and advanced portable devices.

The future of energy storage

The CIC energiGUNE research institute specializes in energy storage, with projects working on batteries, thermal energy storage and hydrogen technologies, among others. Since its beginnings in 2011, the institute has been based in Vitoria-Gasteiz, Basque Country. Nuria Gisbert has been director general of the institute since 2015. “Research on energy storage is at the heart of our scientific activity,” Gisbert told pv magazine. She added that the center’s continental recognition ensures that “we have a leading position in breakthrough technologies such as solid-state batteries and sodium batteries.”

Regarding the European framework, Gisbert said Europe “has been investing three times more than China in the battery value chain” since 2019 to achieve the goal of having a quarter of the market. In this regard, she said that “there are up to 30 battery gigafactory initiatives planned, and by 2030 Europe could have a generation capacity of more than 1 TWh, which shows that the he future of the market could be very different from the current situation. .”

As for the future of lithium batteries, Gisbert said that “in the years to come, it will be the automotive industry that will be the largest manufacturer of lithium batteries, and therefore the one that will take direct or indirect control of this material”, which will make it more difficult for manufacturers of other applications to access lithium batteries.

The limited supply of lithium has led major manufacturers to start evaluating complementary or alternative chemicals, such as sodium or redox flow batteries, she said. “In this sense, sodium-based batteries are attracting a lot of interest due to their performance and the evolution they are expected to experience in the coming years, positioning themselves as a real alternative to lithium-ion batteries. in stationary and complementary applications in others. applications.”

“In the future,” Gisbert said, “there will be different technologies coexisting for different applications with a clear trend towards hybridization of storage technologies.”

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