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Lead surplus no more?

Thu, 07/19/2012 - 18:02 -- Ruth Williams

Lead supplies could fall into deficit for the first time in five years.  Recycling of car batteries has stunted demand for raw resources but, with a growing market in Asia for electric bikes, industry demand for lead is rising.  

The 2012 global lead market is set to record a surplus of 144,000 metric tons. The price has declined in recent years due to this surplus, with value falling from US$2 700/t to $1 900/t from last year.

Demand for electric bikes should reduce the surplus and push prices up, lead producers would welcome this as prices have fallen steadily since 2007 when it was valued at US$3 890/t on the London Metal Exchange.

With lead producing factories closing in China and environmental concerns hindering expansion, the demand for lead is outstripping supply. 

On track for a smaller more economical hybrid

Thu, 07/19/2012 - 18:02 -- Ruth Williams

A Japanese hybrid train company has made an engine 45% smaller and 20% more economical on fuel than conventional diesel locomotives.  Kinki Sharyo use a diesel engine combined with lithium-ion batteries.  Unlike diesel trains the hybrid only requires one engine for two locomotives making it lighter and more economical on fuel. 

SAFT go photovoltaic

Thu, 07/19/2012 - 18:02 -- Ruth Williams

Saft is producing lithium-ion cells for Schuco’s photovoltaic energy storage system available this year. 
The system determines if energy is stored, consumed or sold back to the grid.  The system control unit detects how much self-generated electricity is available and combines this information with external data.  Electricity is only exported when production exceeds storage capacity.

Lithium-ion without the rare earth metals

Thu, 07/19/2012 - 18:02 -- Ruth Williams

A Tohoku University researcher last month announced the development of a lithium-ion battery whose positive electrode does not use any rare earth metals.

Conventional lithium-ion batteries do use rare metals, such as cobalt and nickel, in the positive electrode. Due to their geochemical properties rare earth elements can be dispersed and often not found in concentrated or economically exploitable forms.  This makes these metals costly, and supplies not always stable. Eliminating them will likely make the batteries cheaper to manufacture.

China announced plans in 2009 to reduce its export quota of rare earth minerals to around 350,000 tons per year to conserve scarce resources and protect the environment.  This has led to other countries stock-piling their reserves.  The EU, US and Japan have brought a complaint to the World Trade Organisation alleging China is restricting the exports to maximize domestic use and thus distort the global economy.

Professor Itaru Honma of Tohoku University's Institute of Multidisciplinary Research for Advanced Materials has succeeded in replacing these metals with organic substances. As a result, costs of materials for the positive electrode have been slashed to less than one-fifth what they were before.

Professor Honma made a button-sized lithium-ion battery for testing. This prototype achieved an energy density of 200 watt-hours per kilogram -- roughly double that of current lithium-ion batteries. Tests confirmed that the button-sized battery could withstand at least 100 charge-discharge cycles.

The next step will be to look further for organic materials that more efficiently store power and boost the battery's capacity, with a goal of developing a secondary battery for electric vehicles.

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