Battery Metals and the Green Tech Revolution – How Easy is it to Mine in Europe?

by | Feb 5, 2020

The term ‘Battery Metals’ is now widely used within and around the mining industry. Battery metals are considered critical to the future of the renewable energy industry as the world moves away from internal combustion energy. The traditional source of battery metals has been countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo (cobalt) and China (lithium and graphite). However, with increasing demand, Europe has now become the focus of a number of exploration and mining companies. Despite ranking as ‘Very Easy – Easy’ on the ‘ease of doing business’ index, the majority of northern and western Europe have not made mining ‘Very Easy – Easy’.

Intro to Vanadium Redox Flow Batteries

Currently the most topical rechargeable battery is the lithium-ion battery. This comes in various guises utilising elements such as lithium, cobalt, graphite, manganese, aluminium, copper and nickel, all of which are experiencing a boom in demand and exploitation. However, there is another significant type of rechargeable battery that is growing in importance, the Vanadium Redox Flow Battery (VRFB).

Whilst lithium-ion batteries will remain at the forefront as a portable energy source, specifically in the electric vehicle and personal device space, they are not suitable for larger grid-scale energy storage. This is where VRFBs are a key player. VRFBs are not only non-flammable but also long life, with no loss of capacity over a 25 year lifespan, as illustrated in Figure 1 below. Vanadium electrolyte has four different oxidation states (V2+, V3+, V4+ and V5+) that allows it to be infinitely reused and remains 100% recyclable at the end of battery life. In addition to this, VRFBs are extremely scalable, which renders them highly suited to grid-scale green energy storage.

Figure 1
Lifespan of VRFB vs. Lithium-ion Batteries

Source: www.visualcapitalist.com.

Of course, there is an inevitable downside and that is the cost to produce VRFBs. The largest expense, generating between 30% to 50% of the total battery costs, is the vanadium electrolyte itself. Hence, a reliable and low-cost supply of vanadium is the key is to be able to produce VRFBs cheaply.

Vanadium

There is an abundance of vanadium in the Earth’s crust. The World’s vanadium resources are estimated to be >63Mt and it is anticipated that the global demand for vanadium will more than double by 2025.

Economic concentrations of vanadium occur in four main mineral deposit types:

  1. Vanadiferous titanomagnetite deposits;
  2. Sediment Shale-hosted deposits;
  3. Redox Sandstone (uranium)-hosted deposits; and
  4. Vanadate deposits.

Of these deposit types, sedimentary shale hosted deposits offer high tonnage resources with potentially favourable metallurgy and easier processing to produce high purity vanadium pentoxide.

The Skåne Project, Southern Sweden

Since 2018, Micon International Co Limited (Micon) has been involved in the exploration and resource estimation of such a deposit, the Skåne Project located in Southern Sweden owned by ScandiVanadium (ASX:SVD www.scandivanadium.com). On 18th December 2019 ScandiVanadium announced a maiden JORC Mineral Resource for the Hörby deposit, a target area situated at the northern end of the Skåne Project, of 116.9 Mt at a grade of 0.39% V2O5, estimated by Micon’s Senior Geologist and Director Liz de Klerk (https://www.scandivanadium.com/investors-1).

The Skåne Project is a black shale-hosted deposit with a thick and continuous layer of vanadiferous mineralisation hosted in the Early Ordovician Dictyonema Formation. The deposit was mined in 1940 from the nearby Flababro Creek.

ScandiVanadium began exploration on the Hörby deposit in August 2019. Diamond drilling confirmed the presence of two consistent seams, the Top Seam and the Bottom Seam, separated by a 4m thick low-grade interburden (Figure 2). Micon modelled the seams in Micromine and estimated Inferred and Indicated Mineral Resources (Figure 3).

Figure 2
Stratigraphy at the Hörby Deposit

Figure 3
Hörby Mineral Resources (JORC 2012)

Mining in Sweden

Mining is an historically  key industry in Sweden, currently contributing to the country’s overall wealth with the mining industry at present employing approximately 6,000 people (www.gettingthedealthrough). In an attempt to build further on the country’s established and historical mining industry, the Swedish Government in 2016 commissioned the Swedish Geological Unit (SGU) to provide an analysis of the available resources of ‘innovation-critical raw materials’. The results of this study identified several areas of importance and the SGU are continuing to evaluate Sweden’s potential to extract innovation-critical raw materials, such as Battery Metals.

The Issue

The Skåne Project offers exposure to vanadium and the battery metals sector with a globally significant sedimentary deposit in Sweden, the heart of Europe.  The Hörby deposit, situated in an area previously excavated for peat, offers excellent infrastructure, economic framework and access to EU markets where vanadium is considered a Critical Metal due to its economic importance and lack of European supply. www.scandivanadium.com

Despite this, the Skåne Project has not been well received domestically, and ScandiVanadium’s development of the project has been slowed by bureaucratic delays and a campaign of misinformation against the mining industry. Micon witnessed organised protests whilst on site at Hörby at the commencement of the maiden exploration drilling campaign in August 2019.

Of course, no one desires a mine on their doorstep, and so the community’s apprehension and concerns are understandable. But nowadays, the majority of people involved in exploration and mining empathise with affected communities, share their environmental concerns, and work to mitigate impacts. Environmental and Social Governance (ESG) has been gaining traction recently with more and more CEOs being measured against their ESG performance, a move that Micon welcomes. Furthermore, an article released by Bloomberg on 9th January 2020 announced that ESG-aligned companies could be rewarded with significant savings when looking to raise funding for lithium projects.

Unfortunately, though, the activities of protest groups, local government and vocal members of the community in Skåne toward ScandiVanadium are all too common a story in European mining. For example, Savannah Resources recently received a negative reception over its lithium project in north Portugal (www.miningjournal.com). So often the tail wags the dog, with policy decisions based on the noisy opinion of a minority rather than an understanding of the bigger picture of nearby jobs, regional growth and the global supply of climate-critical metals.

The top four vanadium-producing countries currently are Brazil, China, Russia and South Africa. Europe does not feature on any ‘top’ production lists for any battery or green technology metals. This surely has to change as Europe seeks to achieve ambitious net-zero carbon targets by 2050. If the limiting and obstructive attitude of some regional authorities continues, then what does that mean for our shared future? Should we give up now against the climate-change crisis and wait for planet Earth’s ecosystems to implode? All mining ceases and we revert to pre-industrial living conditions? Europe buries its head in the sand and continues to exploit poor communities, with corrupt governments? Something has to give!

For more information regarding Battery Metals and Environmental and Social Governance, please contact Liz de Klerk via Micon’s website (www.micon-international.com/our-team).

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