With demand for lithium set to increase over the next decade, Roskill has calculated, using its in-house analysis, that CO2 emissions from lithium production are set to triple by 2025 versus current levels and to grow by a factor of six by 2030, with the vast majority of this coming from mineral concentrate production, shipping and refining.
CO2 emissions from the production of refined lithium.Source: Roskill. Note: Emissions are classed as the CO2 emissions (from all fuel sources). For the purposes of this analysis, emissions are classed as any anthropogenic sources of CO2. This calculation includes all CO2 emissions grouped under Scope 1 and 2 categories as set out by the Greenhouse Gas Protocol as well those associated with transporting material between production and refining sites.
Roskill’s new Sustainability Monitor, and subsequent White Paper, analyze the energy consumption and CO2 emissions of the lithium supply chain. This analysis, based on a bottom-up calculation of energy use by source, accounts for all scope 1 and 2 emissions within the production chain, measured on an operation by operation basis. It examines fuel use, power sources and energy intensity, determining how these factors contribute to an operation’s overall emissions profile. Using this, Roskill has been able to produce detailed energy and emissions intensity curves of the lithium supply chain.
What the paper and analysis demonstrate, among other things, is the clear contrast in emissions intensity between brine and mineral operations. On average, lithium sourced from hard rock spodumene sources requires an average 9t of CO2 for every tonne of refined lithium carbonate equivalent (LCE) produced, nearly triple that of the average tonne of LCE from the brine sector.
Given the more energy-intensive nature of mining along with the requirement for emissions-intensive shipping of mine site concentrate to China for refining, this perhaps comes as no surprise. Additionally, the analysis can pick out individual operating segments within both production chains and what stands out, namely:
The high shipping emissions associated with transporting Australian spodumene concentrate to China for refining.
The high emissions intensity of refining concentrate to lithium carbonate or hydroxide, in part driven by China’s power grid mix and reliance of coal.
The low emissions output from mining equipment and on-site vehicles, despite their comparatively high energy intensity.
The significant disparity between emissions from mineral concentrate and brine refining.