Charging up the battery market
We’re scaling up and working smarter to meet demand for renewables
Last updated: 15 September 2022
As electric vehicles (EVs), renewable power sources and home energy storage become more affordable and widely adopted, the world will need more of the minerals and metals that make these technologies work.
To help us meet this growing need, in 2021 we launched a new Battery Materials business, which will see us add essential minerals like lithium, nickel and tellurium to our product portfolio.
But sourcing, mining and producing these rare minerals at the scale needed to meet future demand is no mean feat. Here are some of the ways we’re working to meet this in a responsible way.
In a recent episode of the Global Lithium podcast, Rio Tinto’s Managing Director of Battery Materials, Marnie Finlayson, discussed our vision and strategy for battery materials, our role in the energy transition and our outlook for the lithium market.
Scaling up responsibly
One way we’re working to meet growing demand for high-quality materials is finding promising new projects to scale up responsibly.
With its direct extraction technology, our new Rincon Lithium Project in Argentina is helping us achieve that. It’s a large, scalable, undeveloped lithium-brine project that’s capable of producing battery-grade lithium carbonate with potentially one of the lowest carbon footprints in the industry.
We’re also partnering with Talon Metals on a joint venture at Tamarack – the only high-grade nickel, copper and cobalt project in the US, located in central Minnesota.
Extracting value from waste
The way we produce our materials can have just as much of an impact on the energy transition as what we produce. But we can reduce the impact of our activities by reusing and recycling as much as possible at every stage of our process.
At our technology centre in Sorel-Tracy, Quebec, Canada, we’ve found a way to get scandium – another critical mineral – from titanium dioxide production waste. Scandium is an essential material in technologies such as EV batteries and solid oxide fuel cells.
Investing in ingenuity
To maintain pace in a rapidly evolving industry, we’re forging strong partnerships with companies that are leaders in technology and building the supply chain. And we keep a watchful eye on new discoveries, new techniques and even new materials that could support the energy transition, and invest in promising startups.
Some of the ways we’re doing that include a partnership with Slovakian battery company InoBat to support the development of the battery ecosystem in Europe. We’ve also invested $10 million in clean technology innovator Nano One, to change the way cathode active materials are manufactured, contributing to a cleaner and more efficient battery supply chain. And we’ve invested seed capital in ElectraLith, a spin off from Monash University, to further develop electro-filtration technology for lithium extraction from brine deposits. The technology has the potential to process lithium-brine much faster and with a higher purity, while dramatically reducing its environmental footprint.
The EV industry offers huge potential to partner with car and truck manufacturers, and find ways work together to create more value and security of supply. We’ve recently started working with Ford Motor Company to provide a secure supply chain of several critical materials that will enable an EV future – including lithium, low-carbon aluminium and copper – for new vehicles the motor giant produces.