Lithium Podcast

The Best, The Worst, The First

On a soggy morning in Santiago Chile, Joe and Emily sit down with Daniel Jimenez, a lithium industry veteran since 1999 to discuss his life spent in lithium. Joe recalls how difficult SQM made his life in sales by bringing the lithium price down.  The three get into the context of the high-profile feud between Corfo and lithium companies regarding moving up the value chain in Chile, and the lost opportunity for the country as a result of not solving the problem quickly. Joe and Danile discuss the potential disconnect between lithium production volume permitted on the Salar de Atacama vs. what is technically feasible, but concur that hydroxide and carbonate prices will converge. Nevertheless, Daniel believes large producers like SQM will keep a foot in both the carbonate and hydroxide worlds to hedge their business and provide battery use for off-spec carbonate.

When talking about the lithium and EV markets, Daniel shares his view that demand is linked to when price parity for electric vehicles will be reached, but that while demand could turn quickly, supply forecasts are too optimistic due to investment delays and challenges scaling up. The trio get into the qualification process and time, to which Daniel aptly comments that qualification time is proportional to the availability of lithium, and buyers show flexibility in times of high demand.

Daniel and Joe share stories and highlights of the cultural differences between the big battery countries, and what Daniel has observed in his career as a movement towards a more open and warm reception of different cultures and people worldwide.

As usual, Emily and Joe close out the episode with some rapid fire questions.

E46: Daniel in the Lithium Den

 
 
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This episode is a combination of a college reunion and adult summer camp. Recorded in Jujuy, Argentina, during the Panorama Minero Lithium South America event with returning guest Jon Evans the CEO of Lithium Americas. It was a great opportunity for both Jon and Joe to catch up with many of their ex-FMC Lithium (Argentina) colleagues who also attended the event. Joe was in the midst of a two week, two conference trip to South America that his wife, Connie, likes to call “adult summer camp.” Using her camper skills, Emily assembled a makeshift studio in her room. The well attended conference created a bit of a housing shortage and Emily generously shared her room with former podcast guest Ines Ulla who makes a cameo appearance.

Once the logistics were out of the way, Jon gave Joe and Emily an update on the progress at Minera Exar, the LAC – Ganfeng JV, that is rapidly advancing the Cauchari brine project in Jujuy. Listeners to episode 45 will also get an update of LAC’s wholly owned Thacker Pass clay (aka “soft rock”) project in Nevada.

Jon speaks about the changing attitude in the United States with respect to critical raw materials for the battery industry which includes lithium deposits. The group discusses resource nationalism in the light of the developing US – China trade war. They also shed some light on why the US is behind in the minerals space despite being rich in natural resources. The negative sentiment toward China has not impacted LAC’s relationship with partner Ganfeng but it has created a need to take of broader view or partnerships when considering how to develop Thacker Pass.

Jon discusses LAC’s engineering heavy, get it done, no BS approach to project development in both Argentina and the US including a discussion of how mining licenses work in the US. Joe and Emily then move on to corporate culture and ask what lessons from his time at FMC Lithium will help Jon run LAC? Jon makes it clear that developing greenfield lithium projects isn’t easy and that unexpected issues “always” happen. Jon gives his vision of where he sees LAC a few years down the road and wonders aloud about the current negativity on pricing when today’s price is more than double what it was when he left FMC Lithium just a few years ago. As is the custom, the podcast closes with rapid questions. Keep your ears open, Joe and Emily have a few new questions for their guest.

E45: Lithium Homecoming

 
 
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Joe and Emily sit down with Chloe Holzinger of LUX Research in Santiago, Chile, on the first day of her 28th year on this earth to chat everything batteries. 

Chloe describes how a love of sailing and desire to be outdoors propelled her to study marine chemistry, and the impact of the BP oil spill on her choices to receive a Masters of Engineering from Duke and return to Boston, the cleantech hub of the USA. Chloe explains the east coast/west coast divide in developing hardware vs. digital solutions, and her first experience with the battery space developing aluminum water batteries for Open Water Power. 

At LUX, rather than look at pricing, Chloe looks at the supply chain from the standpoint of auto companies, cell manufacturers, and material suppliers, and explains the role of corporate venture capital in cleantech. Chloe points out the need for ecosystems for tech and the rise of innovation in Asia, and Joe airs his grievances against “Tax-echusetts.” Joe and Chloe agree on the challenge faced by US and Canadian players, given the fact that the battery market is in Asia.

The three pivot to the future of mobility and the prospect of players like Amazon providing transportation as a service, and discuss how that would change the number of cars on the road and requirements of that vehicle, as well as the rise of vehicle autonomy and applications that need solutions like battery switching.

They then move on to the need for vertical integration between the upstream and downstream, Chloe shares the reasons why a circular economy will necessitate a more vertically integrated ecosystem, and why she believes large cathode makers should lead. Joe wonders aloud about the likelihood that automakers will bear legal responsibility for cradle to grave requirements in the EU, and channels his inner Elon Musk by commenting that jiffy lube is the blockbuster of the EV revolution.

Their last hard topic is the rise of solid state batteries and the lithium metal anode, specifically what that means for the lithium world, including how lithium metal would be transported and used in the manufacturing process. We also discuss the advantage current manufacturers or aligned battery companies have in the race to implement solid state, and the first places we expect to see solid state batteries. Chloe predicts Emily will have a battery-powered solid state battery powered blow dryer by 2025. 

As usual, Emily and Joe end with some rapid fire questions.

Shout out to @greentownlabs @amazon, @BASF, @toyota 

Lithium Fires:

E44: The Kids are Alright

 
 
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In the first of a series of Global Lithium Podcast episodes recorded in the “bohemian” heart of Santiago, Chile, Joe and Emily sit down with Dr. Yuan Gao, CEO of Pulead Technology

Joe and Dr. Gao reminisce about their first meeting in Bessemer City, NC while they both were with FMC Lithium. They discuss traveling together through Asia, and Joe’s first experience eating Moon Cakes in China. After reminiscing over the caloric joy of these sugary treats, the three get down to business.

Dr. Yuan Gao is a preeminent member of the battery world, having learned from the best – such as Dr Jeff Dahn. Yuan discusses his transition from physics to battery.

The listener gets a great explanation of the different types of cathodes and how battery makers decide which cathode to use depending on the application. He provides the numbers for the lithium intensity of both the cathode and the battery, and excess lithium that is lost in the manufacturing process.

The three close out by talking about the impurity profile that makes a lithium chemical “battery quality,” the challenges and potential for solid state batteries, and the players in the China brine space in Qinghai.

All this plus rapid fire!

If you listen to one Global Lithium Podcast, it should be this one. 

mic drop

E43: Lithium Intensity

 
 
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Welcome to the Lithium Valley! Will wonders never cease ?

While in Western Australia, Joe and Emily had the good fortune to meet Colleen Yates of the Regional Development Authority (RDA) Perth, one of the architects of the Lithium Valley.

Colleen shares how she learned about lithium as well as her motivations and goals in creating the concept of the Lithium Valley She tells us why she sees EVs as an important part of – but not the only “driver” of lithium’s future. Joe and Emily learn about her thoughts on the need for diversity in the battery cell supply chain, and also how she defines diversity. The three also cover the need for both Europe and the US to acknowledge that if they want to compete with Asia they need to play catch up and acknowledge the challenges involved.

Joe and Emily also learn of Colleen’s connection to the NBA (National Basketball Association!

Colleen talks about the physical logistics involved in realizing the goals of the Lithium Valley, and how actors such as Albemarle may be ignoring necessary competitive advantages such as port access or availability of chemicals. Your hosts close, as usual, with rapid fire questions, and leave Colleen Yates as the proud owner of a Global Lithium hat.

E42: Welcome to Lithium Valley

 
 
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In a short and sweet episode for all you busy business people, Joe and Emily sit down for 24 minutes to recap the highlights of a busy trip to Australia. Joe reflects on why his efforts to dispel the lithium chemical oversupply myth are challenged by a desire for a simple, non-nuanced solution, and a desire especially from the Australian market to make lithium look like something familiar, such as iron ore.

Joe gives his take on the Wesfarmers/Kidman deal, and why he doesn’t think it’s very likely that any of the major Chinese players will come in “over the top” and outbid Wesfarmers. For the folks at Wesfarmers listening, Joe suggests you reach out to Livent to round out your lithium portfolio with a world class brine asset.

Emily wonders why the world outside of China continues to try to view the country as a single actor rather than unique companies, and Joe gets into the details on how he arrived at the much-quoted conclusion that the lithium market needs at least US $12 billion in investment before 2025. The team (hopefully) puts to rest the idea that there is a brine vs. hardrock debate by showing that all of the major players have investments in both assets, compares swag, and says adios until the Fastmarkets conference in Santiago.

E41: The Lithium Matrix

 
 
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In a long overdue episode, Joe and Emily sit down with Cameron (aka Cam) Henry, the CEO and Founder of Primero Group, the upstart engineering firm taking the lithium world by storm.

Cam shares the story of Primero, from building a good team, winning the first big contract, and some challenges and successes along the way. He further discusses how developing a niche in the lithium space has allowed Primero the opportunity to grow the business and become the firm behind upskilling and training the next generation of lithium processing experts. Joe shares the story his first meeting with Cam and Emily tells an anecdote of an unusual encounter in a chandelier-shaped table in Las Vegas to highlight the challenges in running an international business.

Cam shares how he sees the future of the lithium industry, and how Primero plans to continue to differentiate itself from the typical engineering services firm. While Joe and Emily spar a bit more than is usual, all ends well as Cameron gifts the group some lovely Primero swag.

E40: Ready for Prime Time

 
 
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Joe and Emily are back in Perth to catch up on the latest in WA.

The Global Lithium Podcast team sits down with repeat-guest Ken Brinsden and Dale Henderson from Pilbara Minerals.

The two begin with Dale’s origin story from New Zealand to lithium in Australia by way of the Middle East. Dale shares his experience starting up the Pilbara hard rock spodumene project, including the focus on accuracy. Ken weighs in on how a company declares to have reached commercial production, and how he views the potential for future vertical integration. Dale teaches Emily about the technical topic of fines separation by using analogies with common kitchen items as part of a broader discussion of how an ore extraction operation selects a processing strategy.

Ken shares the differences and similarities in working with Posco and Ganfeng as partners, and his view of the role of hydroxide and carbonate in the future. He also explains the impact of high profile project failures on raising capital and how Pilbara navigates these waters. Joe and Emily close as usual with some rapid fire questions, including book recommendations from Ken to Dale.

The Global Lithium Podcast supports Ken Brinsden’s participation in the Walk the Plank charity event to raise money for research for children’s brain cancer. Learn more and donate to Ken’s efforts here.

Disclaimer: A duck’s quack does echo. According to Mythbusters, when examined by an audio-expert, it was found that the echo was “swallowed” by the original quack, due to the very similar acoustic structure between the quack and the echo. Because of this, it may be difficult to tell where the quack ends and the echo begins.

E39: Men (Still) At Work: An Aussie and a Kiwi

 
 
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The podcast continues their global efforts as Joe records from Charlotte, North Carolina, and Emily records in Sichuan Province, China. Their internet connection played a little havoc with the sound quality, but, as usual, Elena Piech did an excellent job with the editing.

The two discuss Galaxy’s recent Sal de Vida announcement and the market reaction, Joe’s recent meeting with Livent’s CEO, and Emily’s meetings in China. The two also speak about the various levels of product quality in China and how that impacts the ongoing narrative on lithium prices.

E38: From Sichuan & Charlotte

 
 
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In a long-awaited episode, Joe and Emily sit down with Rodolfo Micone and Ines Ulla, the Secretary and Undersecretary of Mining of Catamarca Argentina.

The guests start with their origins stories and then discuss the challenges that Catamarca faces as a young player with a short history of mining. Secretary Micone shares common mistakes made by mining companies, and how to use the government as a valuable resource to understand communities and local needs. Joe asks the provincial authorities about the infrastructure challenges that are faced, and Rodolfo provides context that many of these investments and decisions rest in the hands of the federal government.

Rodolfo and Ines share how the aspects of politics, technical concerns, community relations, and promotion are inextricably linked.

One of Argentina’s big decisions in the future is to firmly articulate that they are a pro-mining country.

Joe shares an anecdote of a conversation with a coffee shop owner regarding the environmental reputation of mining, and Rodolfo doesn’t mince his words in explaining that mining is an engine of development and the mother of all industries – and that while being anti-mining may be a modern “badge of honor,” those with concerns are picking and choosing what information to listen to and living a comfy life with modern amenities like heat, water, and infrastructure that come from mining. He calls attention to the hypocrisy of people like this coffee shop owner who go out to rural sites near mines for a vacation and Instagram shot and return to their cozy lives a few days later.

Ines shares her 8 year experience in the Mining Authority, starting out as a technical assistant to her current role as the Under Secretary, and seeing the impact mining has had on communities located near mining projects, as well as frustrations with factors outside the province’s control that can delay and slow down development

In the live studio audience Carlos Arauz, a radio journalist from Catamarca, shares a story of finding Joe Lowry in the city after seeing his photos on twitter, highlighting the magic of social media.

E37: Straight Talk

 
 
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Never willing to let an opportunity slip by, Joe and Emily get an early start before a visit to Neo Lithium’s Tres Quebradas project in Argentina to squeeze in 15 minutes with Neo’s CFO Carlos Vicens.

In a nearly banter-free podcast, Carlos shares his origins story from Venezuela with the Global Podcast Team. The three discuss the history of the Tres Quebradas project, and delve into some of the project’s unique attributes, including the jurisdiction and the environmental cooperation the company and local government are working together to develop. Carlos gets into lithium, the mining authority and environmental authority of Catamarca, and how the team earned a reputation that inspired the Mining Authority to congratulate Neo for setting the example of how a mining company should work. Stick around for the rapid fire section to learn Carlos’ favorite cocktail.

E36: Lithium Wake Up Call

 
 
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Have you ever wondered what a day in the life of a lithium analyst from a top investment bank looks like? The Global Lithium Podcast team has – so when we ran into Cormark Securities’ Mac Whale aka, “the best name in lithium” at 3000 meters above sea level en route to visit Neo Lithium’s 3Qs project in Argentina. Joe and Emily knew it would be a special podcast episode.

Emily wasted no time building an impromptu podcasting studio from the furnishing in her hotel room and getting down to business.

The three discuss the three main parts of an analyst’s job – visiting projects, writing reports, and participating in the sales process. Emily and Joe learn how Mac has structured strategies based on lithium fundamentals and the vagaries of the market. Mac gives Emily and Joe his opinion on the progress of Lithium Americas and Ganfeng’s Cauchari brine project as well as his initial take on Neo Lithium’s Tres Quebradas project in Catamarca, Argentina. Besides his overall view on each asset, Mac shares the criteria he considers to be green and red flags in evaluating projects.

Your podcast hosts also discuss Mac’s thoughts on market sentiment and when the current depressed cycle will change. The two conclude by probing Mac’s inner grunge musical tendencies.

E35: From the Belly of (Mac) Whale

 
 
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Joe and Emily reveal the Global Lithium Podcast version of “March Madness.” This episode keeps it short and snappy discussing several recent developments in the lithium space.

Despite high-nickel cathode hype, lithium hydroxide prices have fallen narrowing the premium versus lithium carbonate prices.

What does the disappearance of the lithium hydroxide premium mean for players who have predicated their strategy on a continued hydroxide price gap vs carbonate (looking at you, Livent)?

SQM’s new CEO may have wished he could “take a mulligan” on the first earnings call in the top job. His confusing commentary left investors scratching their heads about whether SQM would be building up a “Strategic stockpile” or simply having continued production issues.

Emily asks the question does SQM have the ability to lead “cartel adjacent” market behavior?

By blaming his price volatility on battery innovation rather than a sub-par product, Orocobre’s new CEO fumbled in the eyes of Joe and Emily.

The Advantage CEO David Sidoo made headlines in the “Varsity Blues” pay-to-play college admissions scandal.

In the EV space, Ford’s Chairman is mulling entrance to the lithium space, Volkswagen has announced 20 more EVs to be on the road by 2025, and Chinese battery maker CATL and Tesla have announced a deal, to prompting Joe to ask: “where is all the lithium coming from?

The two close on some news from Tianqi regarding their investment in the cathode business.

E34: March Madness

 
 
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This episode, “Time Travelers: The Future is Now” puts “global” in the Global Lithium Podcast. Joe is one day ahead; recording from Tokyo, the site of Battery Japan, on Saturday while Emily who is at the Colorado School of Mines for a Critical Materials meeting, has her feet firmly planted in Friday afternoon.

The podcast team catches up with each other as well as battery-expert Sam Jaffe of Cairn Energy to go over the latest in lithium news. They discuss the new demand forecast from Albemarle as well as SQM’s latest pricing and production information. They also review the status of the transition to high nickel cathodes and the implications on the raw material choice between carbonate and hydroxide.

Sam talks about the Chinese EV subsidy regime and how it impacts cathode decisions. Emily praises the mustache of Dr Dieter Zetsche of Daimler as well as his company’s new mobility JV with BMW. Joe calls FastMarket’s latest brine production numbers into question and revisits Morgan Stanley’s refusal to admit the error of their ways on their well worn oversupply ($8/kg carbonate price) narrative. The trio continues by chatting about Galaxy’s finally closed deal with Posco for Sal de Vida tenements and what happens next on the Salar del Hombre Muerto in Argentina.

The podcast closes with some “rapid fire” questions for Sam.

Episode 33 is brought to you by Zelandez — bringing actionable data to brine exploration companies faster. For more information please check out www.zelandez.com

E33: Time Travelers: The Future is Now

 
 
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In the first Global Lithium Podcast hat trick, Chris Berry is back for his third appearance—this time remotely. Joe is in North Carolina, Emily in Argentina, and Chris in New York. Together they take on the news that Nemaska is going to need CAD $375 million in additional financing, and what that is going to mean for the industry.

Chris shares his views on 2019, comparing the market to Winston Churchill and predicting falling spodumene prices as new Western Australian supply competes for currently limited conversion capacity in China.

Given that the much-hyped oversupply of lithium chemicals does not appear to be anywhere on the horizon, are automakers asleep at the wheel in what Joe describes as a “fool’s paradise?” He says the assumption is that lithium supply will magically appear without any action on automakers’ part. There three also discuss whether or not the US is willing to take the steps to take the lead in the battery space.

In light of the Livent (nee FMC) announcement that it will be exporting hydroxide produced in China, Emily takes advantage of the opportunity to pick Joe’s brain on hydroxide vs. carbonate pricing, and whether the headlong rush into hydroxide for high nickel cathodes is potentially overdone.

In case you, loyal listener, are wondering, Chris answers “rapid fire” questions and shares the story of a cheeseburger that brought him to tears.

We want to thank Zelandez for sponsoring this episode.

About our sponsor: Zelandez is made up of trusted experts in lithium brinefield exploration services. To learn more, visit their website or LinkedInPage.

E32: Hat Trick

 
 
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Joe and Emily kick off 2019 with a packed podcast agenda! They discuss the announced and then quickly denied Berkshire Hathaway deal for Salton Sea geothermal brine lithium production.

Their buddy Dan Blondal, CEO of Nano One calls in to discuss the recently announced Joint Development Argeement with cathode maker Pulead, and the market for LFP cathode.

The Pluspetrol buyout of Argentina’s LSC Lithium and valuation is another topic. They also touch on Fastmarkets prediction of a spot price of US $25,000/ton in 2025, and close out with the never ending Drama in the Atacama.

For more on what’s going on with geothermal brines in California, check out the links below:

https://efiling.energy.ca.gov/GetDocument.aspx?tn=225903
https://www.energy.ca.gov/geothermal/grda_workshops/

E31: California Dreamin’, Drama, and Dan

 
 
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Joe and Emily round out 2018 with a Christmas special, recorded partially in Santiago, Chile, and partially from North Carolina and Washington, D.C., respectively. In Chile, the two chat about some key takeaways from meeting Eduardo Bitran, and details surrounding the Albemarle—Mineral Resources deal. Two special guests drop by the studio: Alejandro Hess shares his views on lithium stocks, and Dr. Alonso Barros gives us some color on the situation with indigenous communities in the Atacama. Joe shares his thoughts on the failure of the wave of oversupply to materialize, and where he thinks the big banks have gone wrong in 2018. The two close with rapid fire questions about favorite podcast moments, new year resolutions, and Joe’s encounter with Bruce Springsteen (before he was a liberal).

E30: A Beautiful Day in the Lithium Neighborhood

 
 

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Due to the length and extremely high level of interest in Episode 27 “Man on a Mission” with Dr. Eduardo Bitran, it seemed that the Global Lithium Podcast’s server might have had issues keeping up with demand.

To ensure everyone gets to listen to the entire discussion without issue, E27 is being split into two parts. Each part is less than an hour in length, so this will facilitate easier downloading. E27 will remain on the website, but for those who have not listened yet it will probably simpler to download E28 “Man on a Mission, Part One” & E29 “Man on a Mission, Part Two.” Think of it as the Global Lithium Podcast’s “boxed set” gift to you. Thanks for your great support this year.

Stay warm,
Joe and Emily

E29: Man on a Mission, Part Two

 
 

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Due to the length and extremely high level of interest in Episode 27 “Man on a Mission” with Dr. Eduardo Bitran, it seemed that the Global Lithium Podcast’s server might have had issues keeping up with demand.

To ensure everyone gets to listen to the entire discussion without issue, E27 is being split into two parts. Each part is less than an hour in length, so this will facilitate easier downloading. E27 will remain on the website, but for those who have not listened yet it will probably simpler to download E28 “Man on a Mission, Part One” & E29 “Man on a Mission, Part Two.” Think of it as the Global Lithium Podcast’s “boxed set” gift to you. Thanks for your great support this year.

Stay warm,
Joe and Emily

E28: Man on a Mission, Part One

 
 

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