Turkey Invests Lithium in Its Path to Energy Transition (Article) - Energy

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  • • Countries that produce lithium and batteries are concerned about sustainability and the circular economy
  • • Germany provides about 3 billion euros to finance projects related to batteries
  • • The drop in prices has accelerated the conversion of many technological gadgets to lithium
  • • Turkey does not have lithium reserves that can be operated economically
  • • Electric vehicle batteries account for more than 30% of lithium demand

As lithium is an essential component of green energy storage technologies, new demands are emerging in many industrial applications, particularly lithium-ion batteries in the electronics industry, and electric vehicles.

With the world moving in this direction today, the precious metal represents one of the needs of modern technology. The countries that produce it and produce batteries are, in general, interested in the issue of sustainability and the circular economy.

In contrast, clean energy, low-emission mobility, increased energy storage capacity and the ability to produce with minimal waste are integral parts of sustainability and the circular economy, so Germany is providing about €3 billion in financing for battery-related projects.

Lithium in Turkey

The most important factor in Turkey’s switch to lithium is the increasing demand worldwide, the cumulative demand, which was just 0.5 GWh in 2010, has risen to 526 GWh in 2020.

This significant increase is expected to reach 9,300 GWh by 2030, an increase of nearly 17 times.

While the price of lithium was $1,911 in 2010, it has fallen to $137 in 2020.

Lithium in Turkey
Homemade Turkish electric vehicle TOG

The last 10 years have seen an 8½ times decrease in the price of lithium.

This drop in prices has accelerated the conversion of many technological gadgets to lithium, and these indications suggest that lithium will be an integral part of advanced technology in the future.

In December 2020, the Turkish automotive joint venture group TOG, in partnership with China’s Varasis Energy, announced that it would produce the batteries that power electric cars.

This step falls within the context of a multi-billion-dollar Turkish plan to produce a local brand car, and under the agreement concluded between the two companies, the Chinese side will supply Turkey with lithium-ion batteries.

Lithium reserves in Turkey

According to Tayfur Öztürk, Professor at Middle East Technical University in Ankara, Turkey, Turkey does not have economically operable lithium reserves. Lithium is obtained from abundant brine reservoirs.

Professor Tayfur Ozturk said that Turkey has some reserves in the salt lake, but its production is not very economical, and there are mud deposits containing 0.2% of lithium in Turkey’s boron reserves.

He explained that Turkey’s new approach to exploiting boron resources is an important step, noting that local and planned research and development activities to produce lithium from the effluent generated during refined boron production will initially produce 10 tons annually.

The lithium production facility, if fully operational, is expected to meet half of Turkey’s lithium needs, with an annual production of 600 tons.

The Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources of Turkey believes that the production of lithium in this way is the first of its kind in the world, and it is specifically undertaken by the global leading Turkish company, Eti Madden, in the production of boron.

In turn, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that Turkey pays special attention to the boron mine, which is one of the most important strategic underground resources in Turkey.

Today, boron is used in nearly every field from nuclear applications to plastics, from fuels to electronics, and from nanotechnology to the automotive and energy sectors.

Turkey has increased the production capacity of refined boron from 730 thousand tons to 2 million 753 thousand tons, and plans to expand the scope of use of boron minerals, especially high-tech products, in the coming period.

Battery industry in Turkey

Ferhat Ozsoy, General Manager of Aspelsan Energy, a subsidiary of the Turkish Armed Forces Corporation, stated that the production facilities for cylindrical lithium-ion batteries, which were implemented with an investment of one billion Turkish liras, will provide a percentage of Turkey’s battery need for all electronic devices.

Lithium in Turkey
Aspelsan Factory in Turkey – Photo from Riley News

These devices include robotic systems, mobile phones, computers, and electric scooters.

Ferhat Ozsoy said that the company will start its work with an annual production capacity of 21 million units, and in the first stage it will seek to reduce Turkey’s dependence on foreign sources. It will then start producing the battery for use in the automobile industry.

Electric vehicle batteries account for more than 30% of lithium demand, according to the International Energy Agency.

As demand increases, it is becoming more and more difficult to obtain lithium globally, so battery manufacturers are always looking for alternative ways to reduce their need for lithium.

The interruption in the supply of these minerals and elements is reflected in their high prices, and the more difficult it is to provide these elements, the higher the price of electric car batteries.

Sodium ion batteries

Moreover, new boiler batteries called sodium-ion batteries can be a good alternative to lithium-ion batteries, and the advantage of sodium-ion batteries is that they charge faster and conserve energy at lower temperatures.

The disadvantage of the sodium ion is that its energy density is lower than that of the lithium ion. Therefore, the sodium ion stores less energy per battery.

One of the main reasons why the Chinese are switching to sodium ions is that lithium is more expensive, its price is rising, and sodium is very cheap and plentiful.

While Turkey has potential to increase the production capacity of lithium batteries, Turkey faces serious challenges to become a competitor to countries, such as China, to increase its global market share.

Given the importance of lithium batteries in the energy transition process, and the increase in public investment and specialization in research and development and production of lithium batteries, solar panels will create more jobs in today’s transition sector, and will attract more foreign investment in Turkey.

Dr. Umud Shoukry, Senior Adviser on Foreign Policy and Energy Geopolitics, is the author of US Energy Diplomacy in the Caspian Basin: Changing Trends since 2001.

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