Battery industry leaders answer lithium shortage fears.

Demand from the energy sector began to climb for an auto and aerospace giant, and something had to give.

"Globally, everybody is going to clean energy, and the applications we are going after: it saves them about 30% in total costs of ownership, so this is an enabler for that industry," Prasad Donti, project leader for Solvay's thermoplastic capital projects, told GSA Business Report.

The Belgian company produces tapes and other materials made from thermoplastic composites used in several applications, including the construction of aircraft, vehicles and lithium-ion batteries.

After a few delays from COVID-19, the company opened a 27,000-square-foot facility on site of Piedmont's former Cytec carbon fiber production plant on Sept. 16. The new lines will be used to manufacture unidirectional composite tapes from PVDF, PPS and PEEK thermoplastics.

According to CEO Mike Finelli, the Upstate's new PVDF tape production line will be used by the oil and gas industries but at Solvay's other locations, the plastic is shaped to bind battery cathodes, allowing them to stay powered up for longer periods of time.

Following the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan home of what some speculate to be the most lithium-rich deposits on the planet fears of a lithium shortage and price spike escalated this fall, but Finelli said he doesn't take stock in those fears. At least not for the lithium market.

"I think the industry will adjust and move as it needs to," he said. "The concern about lithium itself is not as big of an issue as it was a few years ago." Especially as Solvay ramps up the use of a battery-recycling process that extracts minerals from used batteries, he said.

Most batteries are recycled through a process called pyrolysis, he said, where the batteries are ground up and burned. Minerals like nickel and cobalt can be extracted, but lithium is usually too challenging to save. None of the material is pure enough to be used in a battery again, however.

Solvay's use of chemicals used during rare earth mining, however, can extract lithium, cobalt, nickel and magnesium from ground-up batteries pure enough for re-use in a battery.

"Now [we've] created a real circularity, which is critical for this industry, because ultimately, you want to slow down the mining of these materials," Finelli told GSA Business Report.

Critics of the withdrawal from Afghanistan claim the U.S. decision hands Afghan deposits to nations like China, which already operates 73% of all...

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