“Since 2017, more than 10,000 international patent families for lithium batteries have been filed each year, surpassing a total of 177,000 in August of 2023, of which more than 13,400 patent families have a Brazilian counterpart.”
Brazil is among the countries currently in the spotlight in the automotive sector. The nation was ranked sixth, according to a survey published in January 2023 by Motor1, among the countries with the highest number of vehicles sold in 2022, and the market for electric vehicles (EVs) is emerging, as the number of EVs sold in Brazil increased by 58% in the first semester of 2023 compared to the same period last year..
EVs use four types of batteries: Lithium-Ion Batteries, Nickel-Metal Hydride Batteries, Lead-Acid Batteries, and Ultracapacitors. However, most of today’s EVs use lithium-ion batteries. This is the reason for Lithium often being called “white gold”, due to its essentiality for EV batteries.
The value chain of lithium comprises the following steps: 1) Extraction, 2) Processing, 3) Manufacturing, 4) Use, and 5) Collection and recycling. When considering the application of lithium in batteries, innovative technologies are normally expected from steps 2, 3, and 4, as these batteries must comply with technical requirements to enable the implementation of EVs, for example, high battery charge capacity, fast charging, and longer lifespan.
Innovations Related to Lithium Batteries
To understand the development of technologies related to lithium batteries, a patent analysis can provide useful insights. According to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) website (Patentscope), the number of patent applications relating to lithium batteries has exploded in the last few years. Since 2017, more than 10,000 international patent families for lithium batteries have been filed each year, surpassing a total of 177,000 in August of 2023, of which more than 13,400 patent families have a Brazilian counterpart. The number one technology listed in these patents is related to the classification H01M, which can be understood as technologies for batteries including the direct conversion of chemical energy into electrical energy.
While most innovation occurs in steps 2-4, innovation is also happening at the beginning and the end of the value chain of lithium, i.e., steps 1 and 5. A quick search on Google Scholar, found more than 5,000 publications since 2022 among academic and patent documents related to lithium batteries and recycling. Performing the same search on Google Scholar for the other end of the value chain of lithium, extraction, more than 1,100 publications were found since 2022 among academic and patent documents related to lithium batteries and mining.
Remarkable Initiatives in Brazil
Brazil has been active in innovation at steps 1 and 5.
In 2021, a partnership between a multinational company (TUPY S.A.) and a university (University of São Paulo – USP) launched to create a solution to the recycling step. According to a publication of Automotive Business, this partnership has an initial investment of R$ 4 million (USD 813,206) to develop a technology for recycling lithium batteries.
Another good example of innovation is the Brazilian “green lithium”. The Brazilian company Sigma Lithium produced and exported the first batch of “green lithium” to China. “Green lithium” is extracted in the Jequitinhonha Valley, located in the state of Minas Gerais, and it has received a green seal due to the achievement of the triple zero standard, which means it is free of carbon, waste and harmful chemicals during its extraction.
In the matter of lithium production, Brazil is in the top five country producers, as indicated by the World Economic Forum in January 2023, and has a huge potential to produce sustainable lithium, capable of exporting 130,000 tons of “green lithium” by year-end. In May of 2023, Lithium Valley Brazil was launched at Nasdaq, the world’s largest stock exchange for technology and innovation businesses. Lithium Valley Brazil is a Brazilian governmental project focused on producing a more sustainable source of lithium and generating jobs and income for the populations of the Jequitinhonha Valley, transforming this region into a technology hub for battery production and other value-added products.
Moreover, the second largest EV battery maker, the Chinese company BYD, opened operations for its first battery factory in Brazil in August 2023. In addition to the EVs, the Chinese company will produce electric buses in Brazil, using the batteries manufactured in the country.
From the figures above, it is clear that innovation is being developed across the lithium value chain as a whole. All steps in the value chain of lithium are innovative and new solutions are constantly being provided. In Brazil, optimized technologies focused on the sustainable extraction of lithium and maximized use of the metal through recycling deserve special attention, as this is the path of technological development we must pursue to use natural resources responsibly and preserve the environment for the future.
Image Source: Deposit PHotos
Image ID: 31645873