June 18, 2018

What does the discovery of lithium in Ghana mean

Tesla Gigafactory. Credit: Tesla

News recently broke about the discovery of lithium in Ghana, specifically in the Volta region. Depending on the type of lithium (lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide) and the grade, prices can range between $7,000 – $20,000 per ton. This pales in comparison with Gold prices. However, compared to metals such as Aluminium ($2000 per tonne) and Copper ($7000) this is not bad, especially if one considers the anticipated increase in demand.

Lithium is shaping up to be one of the key minerals in the future. This is due to the large number of products that can be made with lithium, from industrial grease to organics compounds. The use of Lithium in batteries is where the demand is expected to rise as technology advances and car makers such as Tesla look to boost production of electric vehicles.

As expected, the discovery of lithium in Ghana was met with a spectrum of responses. On the one hand, some were excited at the promise that this held for development and rightly so. It is expected that mining companies use gains from the mineral to better the immediate community where it is found.

Then again this is Ghana and the skeptics are already out in full force. If the story of Gold and Oil is anything to go by then we rather expect the immediate communities to be worse. Greedy persons whether at the head of a big industry or at the end of a pick-axe, will seek to exploit the commodity at the expense of the indigenes.

Skepticism aside, I am an optimist at heart. Discovery of a mineral that is set to be indispensable in the near future is an opportunity to do things differently. A reset button – a fresh start that should be approached with the same excitement of a new year. The discovery of lithium in Ghana is an opportunity to rethink how we handle our natural resources and what we do with the proceeds. An opportunity to boost our research output as scientists look into novel extraction methods and applications.

Recently on The Horizon radio show on StarrFm, Dr. Elena Rosca from Ashesi university spoke about a student led project on Bio-mining. Bio-mining is a process of genetically modifying the E.Coli bacteria for the detection, liberation and quantification of gold. A viable alternative to small scale mining and all the dangers it poses to the environment.

My question then is, could we encourage such research projects to be developed around Lithium. There is much to be discovered regarding extraction and processing as well as application. We are in the age of innovation, and the discovery of lithium in Ghana gives the country a relevant reason to turn some attention towards investigating what products and business can be developed around lithium.

 

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