Apr 20, 2022
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Academician Aleksandrov: “Lithium lies under our feet, and we are bringing it from America”

Academician Aleksandrov: “Lithium lies under our feet, and we are bringing it from America”

Photo: DPA/Picture-alliance/TASS

Behind the sanctions on raw materials, steel, fertilizers – everything is vital both for Russia and for those countries that introduced them – lithium somehow fell out of attention. A light alkali metal, which is important, harmless to humans, the compounds and alloys of which are critically needed for the technological development of many industries. Offhand – the automotive industry, aircraft industry, metallurgy, microelectronics, chemistry, pharmacology, nuclear energy. That is, everything that a modern state cannot do without.

Here is our country without lithium, as they say, nowhere. But we don’t get it. We receive in the form of carbonate mainly from Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, China – its main suppliers in the world. That is, they received until recently in the right amount and on time. Not expecting, it seems, and in the future problems. Even after the introduction of anti-Russian bans by the West. After all, the authorities of both Argentina and Chile have stated more than once in the past month and a half since the beginning of the Russian special operation in Ukraine that they “do not plan to join the sanctions.” And suddenly included “stop”! And, only for lithium ore. At least for now.

Latin Americans explain such a sharp turn in cooperation with Moscow with problems with logistics, as well as in the financial sector, provoked by the policy of the United States with their European henchmen. It seems like they do not interrupt contacts, but only suspend them. But is this easier for our industry, which is now suffocating in the grip of prohibitions?

“In terms of lithium, the problem is actually already gigantic,” said on Wednesday at a round table in the Federation Council Vladislav DemidovDeputy Director of the Department of Metallurgy and Materials of the Ministry of Industry and Trade of the Russian Federation. “Because if there is a refusal to supply raw materials from Bolivia, and she, like Chile and Argentina, will not supply us with this raw material, then, unfortunately, we have nowhere to take it.”

According to him, several domestic companies are ready to mine lithium here. The necessary processing capacities, they say, are there, enough for ourselves and for export. It’s a matter of licenses.

Vladislav Leonidovich said about the same thing last summer. Encouragedly listing then potential developers of new lithium deposits – in the Trans-Baikal Territory, in the Murmansk Region. As well as refineries of “new oil”, as Tesla owners have called this silver-white metal for some time now.

The capacities operating at that time were allegedly ready to start expanding the Tula Halmek, the Rasnoyarsk Chemical and Metallurgical Plant, and the Novosibirsk Chemical Concentrates Plant.

By the way, in many ways it was Tesla that provoked a sharp increase in lithium a few years ago, taking up electric motors. In terms of their sales in 2020, it became the world leader, having sold about 365,000 of its electric cars. Their batteries use over 60 kg of 99.5% pure lithium.

For comparison, European and Chinese manufacturers spend only about 1-2 kg per piece of equipment. As stated six years ago Elon Muskto produce the desired 500 thousand cars per year, the company will need all the lithium produced in the world.

Add to this the active struggle that has been going on all over the world for a clean environment and the gradual abandonment of internal combustion engines. And comparable to domestic unhurried projects.

Since November 2019, PJSC Gazprom, together with LLC ICT Exploration, has been working on the development of the Kovykta gas condensate field project in the Irkutsk region (the largest in the East of the Russian Federation), in the groundwater of which there are large resources of natural lithium compounds.

In October 2021, the parties signed a memorandum of intent. In early February of this year, we signed an agreement with the Irkutsk Oil Company for production within the boundaries of the aforementioned KGDM. But for now, it will still reach the production itself, and the country needs the “metal of the 21st century”, as they say, yesterday.

Or here is another intention of the National Research Technological University “MISiS” (the first university in the country to receive such a high status), together with the RUSAL Group of Companies, to make our beloved Motherland rich: the development of an effective technology, half the price of the Western one, the extraction of lithium from the waste of fluorite deposits and waste lithium- ion current sources. NUST announced the start of work in April 2017. Its introduction at specialized enterprises was planned in 2020-2025.

The cost of the investment was not disclosed, but according to rumors coming from MISiS, it was a “very solid investment.” Two years out of five have already passed, the third is in full swing. What’s up with our lithiums? Judging by the “cry of the soul” of the ministerial official, nothing so far.

Rosatom also had a lot of plans. True, they are mainly associated with foreign lithium assets. Since 2019, there have been discussions about the possibility of acquiring a site in Chile (in this country, according to the US Geological Survey, 53% of the world’s reserves of this metal) with further localization of its own production of lithium-ion batteries in Russia.

One of the divisions of Rosatom planned to master it by 2023, and by 2030 to secure at least 9% -10% of the world market. However, here, too, either they were late with requests for the desired site, or for some reason they changed their minds about buying.

It was also planned to launch an industrial process for the production of battery-quality lithium at the dumps of deposits in the Ussuri Territory, where more than 40 thousand tons of its carbonate could be mined in 20 years. And at the Zavitinskoye field in Transbaikalia … What about these plans? Are they going to be implemented? Unknown.

“Own production of lithium in our country has not been conducted for more than thirty years,” answered the call from “SP” Evgeny Alexandrov, Academician of the Russian Academy of Sciences, laureate of the State Prize of the Russian Federation for 2020. – It was suspended after the collapse of the USSR. It was believed that buying abroad was cheaper. And those developments that were carried out cannot be called active. In those years, lithium was not in demand as it is now. There were enough offers. In addition, its production is very dirty. And this is a priori environmental problems.

“SP”: – Now, in terms of demand, it is slightly inferior to hydrocarbons. Accordingly, market prices are rising. In May-June 2021, they jumped by 3.77% per 1 kg of metal. Over the past eleven months since then, by 600% at once. Considering that we import a lot of lithium raw materials, the current demarche of Latin Americans can cost a pretty penny!..

“It’s not even about the money. For Russia, it is, first of all, the most important component of nuclear energy. It is used, in particular, in the manufacture of control rods for the protection system of a nuclear reactor. At one time, we at the Physico-Technical Institute. Ioffe developed a promising technology for the production of isotopes. In laboratory conditions, she showed herself very well. They began to build a plant in St. Petersburg (then Leningrad) in order to establish industrial production, but it never worked.

SP: When was that?

— In the 1950s. At the same time, the new domestic promising technology was also abandoned. They preferred the “proven” American one to her. Since then, they began to buy lithium abroad. There are actually many of them on earth. More than the “ubiquitous” potassium. And our country is full of it. But got hooked on imports. Actually, as in everything. After all, we even bring clay for aluminum from Argentina. Isn’t it funny?

This practice, which originated in the USSR in the first years of its existence, has, unfortunately, passed on to modern Russia. To put it mildly, a lousy practice. Which, I think, should have been abandoned a long time ago. As well as from the “honorary title” of the “world gas station”. That, in fact, and prove the current sanctions.

Russia has everything necessary for the successful development of both industry and the economy and agriculture. And we are throwing money around, ignoring the projects of our own talented scientists, organizers, and specialists. This is a big mistake! No matter how fatal…

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