The Lithium Revolution
How the shift to clean energy has opened a window of opportunity for energy metals.
“The Lithium Revolution” infographic presented by: Dajin Resources
Commodity investors know that it in recent years, the sector has had a rough ride. Recently, factors such as China’s slowdown have weighed on short-term prices of industrial commodities like fuels and base metals.
However, not all of the energy sector has struggled. The rise of clean energy has continued to gain momentum, which could be a boon for energy metals producers and explorers.
Simply put, energy metals are metals used in the creation or storage of energy. Here are some examples of energy metals needed to make lithium-ion batteries, which are the storage mechanism of choice for many green energy producers:
Lithium: Lithium is the main ingredient to lithium-ion batteries – the metal’s ions move back and forth to charge and discharge the battery.
Cobalt: Widely used in lithium-ion cathodes
Graphite: The most common anode material for lithium-ion batteries.
Note: Uranium is also used for nuclear power, and copper is fundamental for creating and transporting energy around the world. However, in this infographic we focus on specialty metals.
Electric cars and energy storage for renewable sources have been driving the increases in price and demand for these sectors. Let’s take a look at the specific momentum that has been growing since 2014.
Political and social:
- Obama reveals clean energy plan: The push will involve more than $1 billion in government funds to back new clean energy and energy efficiency projects along with funding research and development of new energy technologies.
- Who were the biggest investors in renewable energy in 2014?
China ($83.3 billion), USA ($38.3 billion), and Japan ($35.7 billion)
- Volkswagen DieselGate scandal causes uproar, as it becomes clear that millions of the company’s vehicles have cheated emissions tests for years
- Elon Musk announces a mandate for Tesla Motors to acquire raw materials from the USA when possible.
- 4,000 people die, each day, of pollution related deaths in China alone.
- The United States deems lithium as a strategic metal and doesn’t give any statistics of its reserves or production.
- Tesla reveals plans to build $5 Billion Gigafactory in the Southwestern US.
- Tesla announces Nevada as the site of its already-famous Gigafactory project.
- The 1 millionth electric car is built in September 2015.
- Report surfaces that Apple plans to ship driverless cars by 2019.
- Google’s self-driving cars reach the milestone of 1 million miles driven autonomously.
- Tesla takes $800 million in orders for its new home batteries in just two weeks.
- A TSX-V traded company was the most recent recipient of an off take agreement to supply Tesla with Lithium Hydroxide.
- Volkswagen’s stock price gets crushed over 30% in the aftermath of DieselGate.
- FMC recently announced an “across the board 15% increase in price” in all finished lithium products. Lithium Hydroxide rose from $9,500 per ton, up to $10,870. Lithium Carbonate from $6,500 per ton up to $7,475 USD.
- Charging stations have increased rapidly around the world.
- Every major auto manufacture has more than one fully electric car. Some automakers mandate is to have an electric version of every model.
- The oil price has hit a 6.5 year low, yet electric vehicle sales have held momentum.
- Lithium battery manufacturing costs are dropping in price while lithium battery technology is getting better.
- New technology is decreasing the charge time for electric cars. Meanwhile, “miles per charge” is rising, and some cars can even recharge wirelessly.
- There’s a greater interest in looking after the environment with a continued scare of global warming.
- Wind and solar storage needed to regulate output of electricity back to the grid.
- China is a nation now giving priority to EV cars on their highways and parking lots.
The above momentum means energy metals like lithium could continue to buck the general trend of global commodities. So far, the price of lithium has increased steadily since 2011.
Mapped: Every Power Plant in the United States
What sources of power are closest to you, and how has this mix changed over the last 10 years? See every power plant in the U.S. on this handy map.
This Map Shows Every Power Plant in the United States
Every year, the United States generates 4,000 million MWh of electricity from utility-scale sources.
While the majority comes from fossil fuels like natural gas (32.1%) and coal (29.9%), there are also many other minor sources that feed into the grid, ranging from biomass to geothermal.
Do you know where your electricity comes from?
The Big Picture View
Today’s series of maps come from Weber State University, and they use information from the EPA’s eGRID databases to show every utility-scale power plant in the country.
Use the white slider in the middle below to see how things have changed between 2007 and 2016:
The biggest difference between the two maps is the reduced role of coal, which is no longer the most dominant energy source in the country. You can also see many smaller-scale wind and solar dots appear throughout the appropriate regions.
Here’s a similar look at how the energy mix has changed in the United States over the last 70 years:
Up until the 21st century, power almost always came from fossil fuels, nuclear, or hydro sources. More recently, we can see different streams of renewables making a dent in the mix.
Maps by Source
Now let’s look at how these maps look by individual sources to see regional differences more clearly.
Here’s the map only showing fossil fuels.
The two most prominent sources are coal (black) and natural gas (orange), and they combine to make up about 60% of total annual net generation.
Now here’s just nuclear on the map:
Nuclear is pretty uncommon on the western half of the country, but on the Eastern Seaboard and in the Midwest, it is a major power source. All in all, it makes up about 20% of the annual net generation mix.
Finally, a look at renewable energy:
Hydro (dark blue), wind (light blue), solar (yellow), biomass (brown), and geothermal (green) all appear here.
Aside from a few massive hydro installations – such as the Grand Coulee Dam in Washington State (19 million MWh per year) – most renewable installations are on a smaller scale.
Generally speaking, renewable sources are also more dependent on geography. You can’t put geothermal in an area where there is no thermal energy in the ground, or wind where there is mostly calm weather. For this reason, the dispersion of green sources around the country is also quite interesting to look at.
See all of the above, as well as Hawaii and Alaska, in an interactive map here.
The Periodic Table of Commodity Returns
This unique chart shows the performance of individual commodities over the last decade – see commodity returns in 2018, and how they compared to previous years.
Periodic Table of Commodity Returns (2019 Edition)
Commodities are an interesting asset class to watch.
In certain years, all commodities will move in price together in an obvious and correlated fashion. This is a representation of the cyclical characteristics of commodity markets, in which macroeconomic factors align to create a tide that lifts or sinks all boats.
At the same time, however, each individual commodity is incredibly unique with its own specific set of supply and demand circumstances. In the years when these supply or demand crunches materialize, a certain commodity can surge or crash in price, separating itself from the rest of the pack.
A Decade of Commodity Returns
Today’s visualization comes to us from our friends at U.S. Global Investors, and it tracks commodity returns over the last decade.
More specifically, it takes a closer look at individual commodities (i.e. corn, gold, oil, zinc) to show how performance can vary over time. With a quick examination of the graphic, you can see years where commodities moved together – and some years where individual commodities stole the show unexpectedly.
Palladium: A Perennial Winner
The best performing commodity in 2018 was palladium, which found itself up 18.6% – just enough to edge out corn, which jumped up 17.9% in price last year.
Interestingly, palladium has also been the best performing commodity over the 10-year period as well:
Palladium has finished in first place in four of the last 10 years, including in 2017 and 2018 – it’s also impressive to note that palladium has only had negative returns twice in the last decade (2011, 2015).
A Crude Awakening
The worst performing commodity in 2018 was crude oil, which fell -24.8% in price.
Like palladium, this wasn’t a unique occurrence: crude has actually been the worst performing commodity investment over the last decade:
As you can see, crude oil has been the worst (or second worst) commodity in three of the last five years.
Further, as our chart on how all assets performed in 2018 shows, crude oil was outperformed by every other asset class, and the energy sector had the poorest performance out of all S&P 500 sectors last year.
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