Energy transition

Schlumberger, Panasonic Team Up To Produce Battery-Grade Lithium

As electric vehicles make their move into the fast lane, the two high-profile companies are partnering to keep them on track.

Electric car being charged outside home
Credit: Peter Cade/Getty Images.

Schlumberger and Panasonic have announced that they will collaborate on a new battery-grade-lithium production process that they say will pave the way for improved lithium production to help meet the expected surge in demand from the fast-growing global electric vehicle (EV) market. The announcement came from the Schlumberger New Energy arm of Schlumberger and from Panasonic Energy of North America, a division of Panasonic Corporation of North America. The lithium-extraction and -production process will be used by Schlumberger at the Nevada pilot plant of its Neolith Energy venture.

According to Schlumberger, Neolith Energy’s approach uses a differentiated direct-lithium-extraction process to produce high-purity, battery-grade lithium material while reducing production time from more than a year to weeks. The company also said the process significantly reduces groundwater use and physical footprint vs. conventional evaporative methods of extracting lithium. Neolith Energy’s objective will be to pump brine from the subsurface, extract greater than 90% of the dissolved lithium, and pump more than 85% of the brine back to the subsurface in an environmentally safe manner. The goal is to eliminate the need for any fresh water from an external source and reduce the environmental impact.

Panasonic will provide guidance to validate and optimize the lithium material for battery-grade consumption. The global electronics company is considered a Tier 1 lithium-ion battery producer and is listed as the world’s third-largest supplier of EV batteries. Neolith’s Clayton Valley plant is 200 miles from Panasonic’s large-scale advanced battery-manufacturing operation in Sparks, Nevada.

Demand for battery-grade lithium could grow exponentially over the next decade as EVs start to take over the roads. According to Schlumberger, the time to first lithium production for new development projects and regions will be critical for the industry to meet the surge in demand.

EVs Gather Speed
The announcement of the collaboration between Schlumberger and Panasonic came at almost the exact hour of two other EV-related announcements. The Annual Electric Vehicle Outlook, recently released by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), sees mostly EVs sold by the 2030s and mostly EVs on the road by the 2040s—and that is just in the business-as-usual scenario. The firm predicts that, in a net-zero world, EVs would comprise 100% of passenger vehicle sales 15 years from now, with all other classes of road vehicle—from two-wheelers to heavy commercial trucks—being either fully electric or fuel-cell powered by the early 2040s. The BNEF report said that EV passenger vehicle sales could be 20% of all passenger car sales by 2023, compared with their 0.1% share in 2011.

According to the annual EV outlook, Ford’s Mustang Mach-E, which puts old branding on a new vehicle type, is already being manufactured more than its combustion-engine sports coupe namesake.

Referring to the Ford F-150 Lightning, the electrified version of the US’ best-selling vehicle for the past 4 decades, Bloomberg hazarded some scenarios as to what could happen when it hits the market next spring: “It could eat into regular F-150 sales; it could eat into other manufacturers’ full-size truck sales; or it could absorb sales from other vehicle classes—say, SUVs.”

BNEF already has data on how Porsche’s comparable models might evolve on the sales front. The luxury auto manufacturer sells two internal combustion SUV models, one of which is available as a hybrid, and now two sedans—the combustion (and hybrid) Panamera, and the all-electric Taycan. The Taycan accounted for 7% of Porsche’s North America quarterly sedan sales when it was introduced in 2019. Two quarters later, it accounted for just under half. In the first quarter of 2021, six quarters after it was introduced, the Taycan was 82% of Porsche’s sedan sales, even as the total sedan market has grown.

In other EV news, to keep the growing number of EVs running, BP Pulse opened the UK’s first rapid-charging hub for fleet vehicles on Park Lane in Central London. The multicharger hub can charge 10 vehicles simultaneously. The company plans to more than double its capacity in coming months and open hundreds of similar hubs across London and other UK and European cities by 2030 as part of its ambition to grow its operated network of public EV charging points to more than 70,000 worldwide by that year.