In business for over 100 years, the automotive industry is about to embark on a radical, convulsive transformation. The Washington Post (http://nnw.fm/0P4Do) recently pegged 2017 as the year electric vehicles (EVs) went from a promising fad to an industry-wide inevitability due to broader economic and cultural developments. With the forecast demise of the internal combustion engine, the demand for lithium, a crucial component of Li-ion batteries, is certain to surge as EVs proliferate. Lithium demand has already been projected to grow over 300% in the coming years, but that figure could prove to be a woeful underestimation given the massive transportation transformation that’s now on the horizon. The global race for much-needed lithium is on, and it’s being led by several established producers and prospective miners like Standard Lithium Ltd. (TSX-V: SLL) (OTC: STLHF) (FRA: S5L) (STLHF Profile), Albemarle Corporation (NYSE: ALB), FMC Lithium (NYSE: FMC) and Sociedad Quimica y Minera (NYSE: SQM), all of which are being driven further by current EV makers like Tesla, Inc. (NASDAQ: TSLA).
One development tilting the scale toward EVs is the fact that at least seven countries plan to ban the use of internal combustion engines. With an air pollution problem that has hit critical levels, the Chinese government is seeking to cap carbon emissions by phasing out vehicles using gasoline and diesel. Led by China’s 2030 fiat, the impending changes will prove momentous. India is on a similar trajectory. With a population nearly as large as China’s and an auto industry that ranks sixth-largest in the world, authorities in India are hoping that only fully electric vehicles will be sold after 2030. Norway wants to advance that target within its own borders by 2025. Germany, with the fourth-largest auto manufacturing industry in the world, plans a total ban on all internal combustion engines by 2030, while the UK has set its deadline for 2040. The Netherlands is mulling similar plans, and France wants all petrol and diesel cars off its roads by 2040. In addition to air pollution, oil spills are also a great global concern, posing ravishing and long-lasting economic and environmental consequences (http://nnw.fm/kwHt0).
Naturally, more electric vehicles on the road means more lithium-powered batteries, and, consequently, demand for the metal is climbing. Standard Lithium Ltd. (TSX.V: SLL) (OTCQX: STLHF) (FRA: S5L) is gearing up to play its part in boosting supplies. The Canada-based junior exploration company is intent on acquiring more domestic lithium-rich properties, looking to unlock value from overlooked U.S. lithium assets by applying new technologies and processes. Its first project in San Bernardino County, California, at the Bristol Dry Lake has already started to show signs of promise. Test results from a new geophysical survey of the 25,000-acre Bristol Lake site indicate that high concentrations of lithium-bearing brines are present throughout the company’s mineral lease agreement claims.
In a recent interview (http://nnw.fm/K0Srt), CEO Robert Mintak explained why the company is excited about Bristol Lake:
“The project had, he said, ticked off all the boxes. “It had low geological risk for us because we knew we had access to brine that we could immediately begin analyzing for lithium values. It had infrastructure in place because it is a producing mine. It has a paved highway right up to the front door; power and water and, as I mentioned, most importantly, we are working with a permitted mining partner. So a lot of the initial challenges that companies face in getting permits and access to sites to begin work are out of the way.”
The permitted mining partner at Bristol Lake is National Chloride Corporation of America (NCCA), a well-established and permitted brine producer. NCCA’s presence at the site means that the entire necessary infrastructure is in place to give Standard Lithium immediate access to conduct exploration brine sampling, lithium extraction, evaporation and processing activities, all within a fast-track project development schedule. Importantly, it also means that Standard Lithium reduces much of the exploration risks to which junior mining companies are typically exposed.
To improve the quality assurance standards necessary to produce battery-grade lithium compounds, Standard Lithium has appointed a Scientific Advisory Council (SAC) comprised of lithium extraction scientists and process engineers who will oversee and direct all required lithium extraction testing. In addition to the Bristol Lake Brine Project, Standard Lithium in August signed a Memorandum of Understanding with an unnamed NYSE-listed company on an option for Standard Lithium to acquire lithium exploration and productions rights on 30,000 net brine acres overlying the Smackover formation in a region with a history of commercial-scale brine processing. Management said it believes that lithium-bearing brines are likely present in this area. Smackover brines are metal-rich brine anomalies in reservoir rocks along the Gulf Coast from east Texas to Florida that are known to be a prime lithium resource. This asset may be one of the most promising to develop, given that a large-scale brine extraction, processing and re-injection industry is already well established.
Albemarle Corp. (NYSE: ALB) is also poised to benefit from the global governmental promotion of EVs, touting itself as the industry leader in lithium and lithium derivatives.” In 2015, it acquired Rockwood Lithium and started a new production plant for lithium sulfide in Langelsheim, Germany, triggering a steady rise in share price. Over the past year alone, shares of Albemarle have risen about 69%. South American miner Sociedad Quimica y Minera de Chile (NYSE: SQM) has also experienced a rise in share price, gaining more than 100 percent over the last year. According to S&P Global Market Intelligence, ‘SQM’s “lithium and lithium derivatives” business earns gross profit margins of better than 38%.’ FMC Corp. (NYSE: FMC), the parent company of FMC Lithium, is enjoying a similar run, with shares increasing nearly 100 percent over the past year. Meanwhile, Tesla (NASDAQ: TSLA), which in June 2014 created its Tesla Gigafactory in an effort to supply enough batteries to support its mission of producing 500,000 EVs per year by 2018, is also on the rise. A year ago, it was trading at $199.10; now, it is up 75% at $349.48.
Tesla’s Model 3 is the company’s first mass-market EV, and, with a relatively affordable starting point of $35,000, it has garnered considerable consumer interest and market buzz. The popularity and accessibility of the Model 3 is another factor against internal combustion engines.
Other major automakers including Audi, BMW, Ford, Mercedes, Volkswagen and Volvo are also on the EV bandwagon with plans to enter the EV market. General Motors has set a goal of producing 20 new EVs by 2023, demonstrating industry acknowledgement that the tide is turning toward an all-electric future. With the odds stacked against combustion engines, there’s little doubt that fossil fuel-powered vehicles will be phased out and replaced by EVs. This powerful macro trend makes lithium assets ever more valuable and lithium companies an interesting investment opportunity.
For more information on Standard Lithium please visit: Standard Lithium Ltd. (TSX.V: SLL) (OTCQX: STLHF) (FRA: S5L)