Nigeria’s newest lithium discover: some key questions answered

Environmental affect assessments must be made earlier than any mining can begin, says an knowledgeable

Excessive-grade lithium has been discovered in Nigeria. In 2019 the entire manufacturing quantity of lithium, not excessive grade, in Nigeria reached 50 metric tonnes That is small in comparison with Zimbabwe which produced 1,200 metric tonnes the identical 12 months. The Dialog Africa’s Wale Fatade requested geologist Ibrahim Garba for his insights.

What’s lithium and why is it necessary?

The Geological Company described the lithium as excessive grade as a result of what’s been discovered has between 1-13 per cent oxide content material. Usually exploration begins at ranges as little as 0.4 p.c.

Grade (in per cent) is a measure of focus of the lithium within the minerals and or rocks that incorporates it. Due to this fact, the upper the grade the extra the financial viability. Larger 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 cut up between ceramics and glasses (35 per cent) and greases, metallurgical powders, polymers, and different industrial makes use of (over 35 per cent). Less than 30 per cent was for batteries. However by 2030, batteries are anticipated to account for 95 per cent of demand.

Lithium-ion batteries are generally more expensive however have higher efficiency and have gotten the popular know-how. The different sorts are:

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

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

  • Lithium iron phosphate, the most secure know-how with comparatively excessive efficiency however comparatively costly. It is vitally standard in China however is prone to develop into overtaken by Lithium-nickel-manganese-cobalt over the long run; and

  • Lithium-nickel-cobalt-aluminium oxide developed to scale back cobalt consumption and is called a stable performer and of affordable price. Additionally it is turning into standard outdoors China.

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

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

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

World lithium mine manufacturing hit a record high of 100,000 tonnes in 2021, a 21 per cent 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 change to zero emission electrical autos.

The underlying demand for lithium is anticipated to rise proportionately to the manufacturing and gross sales of these autos. Lithium production globally grew from 28,100 metric tonnes in 2010 to 86,000 in 2019. The problem will probably be in supplying the market with sufficient lithium.

Three countries, Australia (40,000 tonnes), Chile (20,600 tonnes) and China (14,000 tonnes) mine about 86 per cent 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 keeping with 2020 information.

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

Lithium price was averagely $2,000 per metric tonne in 2002 rising to $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 will probably be obligatory.

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

What concerning the lithium discover in Nigeria?

The primary and most necessary level is that the invention doesn’t equate to a industrial discover. In truth, it needs 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 type that may be bought to the patron.

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

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

Solely in few very distinctive and extremely viable conditions we are able to anticipate a lesser timeframe.

Fairly numerous components could make or mar the event journey. These embrace proving financial grades and volumes (or tonnages) of the mineral ores, beneficial enabling fiscal and different regulatory environments, price of extraction know-how, market forces and different logistical and sociopolitical points.

An financial quantity of lithium metallic is thought to be related to two minerals: spodumene and lepidolite. Lithium is an element and in nature tends to pay attention sufficiently within the two minerals, spodumene and lepidolite. In any other case it should happen dispersed in minerals however not ample sufficient to be of financial consideration. They’re normally present in specialised rocks called rare metal-bearing pegmatites and greisens.

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

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

These rock pegmatites stretch from the Wamba area, Nasarawa State, north central; by way of 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 way of Niger and Kwara States, north central; and Oyo State, south west; is thought 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 recognized to have lithium-bearing minerals. Nevertheless, there should not 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 embrace ensuring that discharges and mine waster are properly 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.The Conversation

Ibrahim Garba, Professor of Geology, Ahmadu Bello University

This text is republished from The Conversation below a Inventive Commons license. Learn the original article.

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