As part of the project, Gazprom has also concluded an agreement on cooperation with the ministry on joint research and development to create technologies, equipment and materials necessary to produce lithium compounds from formation brines (mineralised underground water).
The project will allow for substitution for imported lithium, used in the production of electric goods and batteries for electric vehicles and household needs. Examples of this are lithium oxide and lithium hydroxide, used in lithium-ion and alkaline batteries. Russia imported a combined total of 0.35 tonnes in 2019, but that figure rose to 0.71 tonnes in the first 11 months of 2021, according to data from Russia’s Federal Customs Service.
“In Russia, lithium mining, despite a solid resource base, is not yet being carried out,” said Trade and Industry Minister Denis Manturov. “And this only adds significance to the project that Gazprom and the Irkutsk Oil Company intend to implement. This will allow us to form a full-cycle lithium industry with a good export potential.”
The driving force behind world demand for lithium is the growing popularity of electric vehicles. In the period from 2019 to 2021 world-wide sales tripled, from 2.27 million to 6.75 million per year, according to data from EV-Volumes.
The most widespread type of electric vehicle is the battery type, accounting for 70 % of world-wide sales, whereas plug-in hybrid electric vehicles account for 30 %. And lithium production over the same period rose only by 16 5 % – from 86,000 tonnes to 100,000 tonnes, according to the United States Geological Survey. And the increased risk of shortages have led to higher prices. The USGS said the average cost of lithium carbonate (the raw material for producing batteries) rose in the United States from $8,000 per tonne In 2020 to $17,000 in 2021.
“According to expert estimates, demand for lithium will continue soaring in the coming years,” said Gazprom CEO Alexey Miller. “And it is commonly known that Russia imports all the lithium consumed nationwide. That is why it is especially important to develop domestic technological expertise in this field.”
World-wide sales of lithium-ion batteries in the period rom 2021 to 2025 will more than double (from $46.5 billion to $104.9 billion), according to a forecast from the Mordor Intelligence agency. Apart from electric vehicles, other contributors to growth will be electrical instruments and industrial goods – their share of world-wide sales were 24.7 % and 11.3 % respectively – compared to 54.7 % for electric vehicles and 9.2 % for various other segments.