LGES buys lithium hydroxide from Vulcan Energy in Germany


Lithium supplier Vulcan Energy has signed a long-term supply contract with Korean battery manufacturer LG Energy Solution (LGES). What’s special: Vulcan Energy wants to extract its lithium from thermal water in the Upper Rhine Graben.

LG Energy Solution plans to purchase 5,000 metric tons of lithium hydroxide in the first year and gradually increase the volume to 10,000 tons per year, the company said. It is a big deal for Vulcan Energy, a startup from Australia that also operates in Germany.

The company plans to extract lithium from thermal water deep in the Upper Rhine Graben in a project together with the energy group Pfalzwerke. They want to add a pilot plant to the Insheim geothermal power plant this year and estimate a commercial plant could go into operation in Insheim as early as 2022. It would eventually produce 2,000 metric tons of lithium hydroxide annually – provided the pilot plant delivers appropriate results.

Accordingly, Vulcan will not start deliveries to the South Korean industry giant immediately but begin in mid-2024 and run for five years. According to Vulcan Energy, LGES’ order volume will account for a quarter of total production by the 2026 ramp-up.

Vulcan could soon also work with Stellantis, which has issued a letter of intent to purchase Vulcan’s lithium hydroxide, according to insiders quoted by Reuters news agency. This seems plausible because, at its EV Day in early July, Stellantis had announced that it had signed two letters of intent with partners to extract lithium from geothermal brine – one in Europe, one in North America. Names were not disclosed at the time.

The process involves pumping hot thermal water from deep underground to the surface – geothermal plants use it to generate heat and electricity. Vulcan, however, still wants to extract lithium hydroxide from the brine water before the water is pumped back into the depths. By 2024, two plants will be extracting 15,000 tons of it a year. In the second phase starting in 2025, the company plans three more plants for a volume of 40,000 tons.

LG Energy Solution could process the lithium hydroxide from the Upper Rhine Graben at its battery cell plant in Poland. From there, it supplies automakers such as Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Jaguar and Ford for the Mustang Mach-E. Currently, the plant has a capacity of 15 GWh. However, in April 2020, LG had announced plans to expand production to 65 GWh.

With reporting by Sebastian Schaal, Germany.


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