Lithium Rush: Why Is Korea Interested in Extracting Li?


"S.Korea. . .to extract Li commercially from seawater by 2015."

Lithium Ion Batteries 'Peak oil' and climate change may prevent an everlasting fall in oil prices. With current prices averaging around $76 per barrel (4Q09), the market for electric vehicles (EVs) is expanding each day. Both Hyundai and Nissan have announced the launch of new electric cars (Volt and Leaf, respectively), indicating the EV market is shaping up well. Despite the recent fall in oil prices, car and battery makers are investing billions to develop viable electric car technologies, which points toward a rush for Li batteries in the near future.

As though outlining the shape of things to come, South Korea has come up with a plan to extract Li commercially from seawater by 2015. The move is not surprising considering the fact that Korea is home to LG Electronics, which possesses one of the best Li-ion battery technologies on the planet.

Hyundai, the world's fourth-largest automaker will launch its first hybrid car with Li batteries, which definitely added to Korea's lithium interest.

Korea is also a Li-ion technologies pioneer. Advanced lithium batteries are now being developed in addition to the simpler, older lithium iron phosphate (LFP) batteries. Earlier, China's range extended electric vehicles (REEVs) were hailed the technology of tomorrow; however, Korea came up with a better solution with manganese spinel cathodes developed and manufactured by Korean giant, Lucky Goldstar Chemical. Along with its U.S. subsidiary, Compact, Goldstar is providing Li-ion batteries for GM's new Volt. Before long, Li-ion batteries will be used in plug-ins and REEVs; thus, we can expect them to be used soon in conventional hybrids as well.

However, for lithium to find global appeal, another factor that must be considered along with the state of the oil market and technological advancement is resistance to change. While countries like Korea and Bolivia welcome the new technology with open arms, some oil-producing countries that fear losing their energy monopoly hope the Li will fail.

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