With electric vehicle manufacturers funnelling most of the global supply to the production of car batteries, prices are escalating and industries, such as construction, that use lithium carbonate for fast setting systems are looking for alternatives.
From the big bang to our day-to-day
Right after the big bang, lithium, the lightest of all metals 1, was the third most common element in the universe 2. That initial abundance has not made it easy to be found on Earth, with just a few operations concentrating much of the global production.
Until the 1990s, the metal was mostly used in industrial and military settings. The latest big jump in lithium demand came with the rise of electric cars during the 2010s. It was during that time that batteries surpassed ceramics and glass manufacturing as the main end-use for lithium 3.
But end usage does not end here. In construction, lithium carbonate is an additive used as a hardening accelerator for alumina-based cement, the so-called ternary binder systems.
79% of global lithium carbonate imports lead to South Korea, China, and Japan, mainly for large automotive and electronics industries 5. The construction sector absorbs a small piece of demand.
Lithium Carbonate in Construction
- Flooring compounds are one the main application for lithium carbonate in the construction sector, more precisely self-levelling underlayments (SLU) and self-levelling overlayments (SLO). It allows us to have floors that support heavy weight or repeated traffic in a faster time.
- Fast setting ceramic tile adhesives (F) are another common application. When applying stone tiles, it is very important that the adhesive setting time is short to ensure the salts from the cement do not pass on to the fissure of the stones and ruin the final result.
- Finally, lithium carbonate also places a role in repair mortar and no-mix mortars
Tight supply drives prices high
In 2021, average lithium carbonate market prices have nearly tripled year-on-year3. Substantial new offer is not expected to reach the market before mid-to-late 20235
With electric vehicles driving demand up, production may have increased in the past 10 years3, but that has not been enough to quell the needs of such a fast-growing market.
In 2021, spot prices achieved a new record high. But after the last boom-and-bust price cycle, producers are still very cautious when investing in new capacity.
New lithium sources are being explored in places from Portugal to the
Democratic Republic of Congo, but substantial new offer is not expected to
reach the market before mid-to-late 2023, increasing a gap between supply
and demand with a strong impact on spot prices5.
Rapidly searching for new accelerators
The heated market is posing a challenge for the construction sector to obtain its vital additive used on ternary binder systems.
At the moment, there is not a common and direct accelerator alternative that can make ternary binders system lithium-free. However, with the right technical knowledge and research, a light at the end of the tunnel appears.
IMCD has the solution for your lithium-free ternary binder system formulations.
Get insights from our experts about our innovative alternative!
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1 SQM - Sustainability of lithium production in Chile
2 NES Fircroft - Infographic - The World Of Lithium
4 World Bank