Lithium Podcast

The Best, The Worst, The First

E54: Lithium Manhattan Project?

Vivas Kumar gets a hall pass from Stanford University for a quick trip to Los Angeles to sit down with the Global Lithium Podcast team. Vivas shares the realities of splitting his life between his new role at Benchmark and pursuing his MBA.

We discuss the trade war with China and why the United States vilifies mining while promoting critical materials. Joe shares his experience with policymakers and entrenched interests and how the government could learn and improve to solve this challenge.

Vivas talks about India, and how electrification of mobility is essential in this country that is home to 15 of the 20 most polluted cities in the world. We cover the development challenges faced by countries like India and China in lifting people out of poverty, and the role of lithium batteries in doing so. We chat about the role of China’s debt diplomacy and why India’s conglomerate culture is different.

Vivas’s first exposure to the world of lithium was at his former employer Tesla, and when he took on the role, his first reading included Joe Lowry’s linkedin articles. Vivas explains why electric vehicles and autonomy are linked, demonstrating the shift from maintenance and moving parts in an ICE engine to the EVs of the future.

We close by hoping that this moment in history is a new “Lithium Manhattan Project” and that current talk translates into action. Our Rapid Fire Question and Answer includes Joe’s take on lithium in Africa, why Vivas wants Houston to be a Smart City, and more.

The Global Lithium Podcast duo sits down with “Team Benchmark” after a successful Anodes and Cathodes 2019 conference in Los Angeles. Emily wastes no time awarding Caspar the “best beard” award, and Joe and Simon discuss their first meeting on “lithium row” when Benchmark had fewer than 3 employees, to today with over 30 and where Simon sees
Benchmark in the future. Caspar Rowles talks to us about cobalt – how it’s produced, how it’s sold, and the misconceptions that surround the market. We discuss the failure of the LME contract on cobalt, and the lessons that the LME should learn in its efforts to succeed in lithium.


Joe asks the Benchmark teams about the ABCs of lithium (Argentina, Bolivia, and Chile), and we discuss the implications of political unrest and change in the lithium triangle. We discuss which automakers are concerned about raw material supplies, but note that the lithium “party”
has already started – in China and Asia. The group discusses whether or not we’ve hit the lithium “bottom,” and agrees that there should be market tightness by year end 2020. As always, we end with some rapid fire questions, in which Ben Ash reveals his hidden past as DJ “Society”, Andy Miller makes a life or death decision, and Simon waxes philosophical on the butterfly effect.


Joe and Emily are joined in Los Angeles by the newly minted “geek squad,” the label intended as the ultimate compliment to four technical experts. All are veterans of the podcast.

We are guided through the lithium value chain from the ground to lithium chemicals to cathode and ultimately the battery. Dr. Tom Benson of Lithium Americas shares how lithium is formed inside the earth, and how the fact that lithium “Can’t Be Tamed” is what makes it so practical for batteries. Dr. Yuan Gao of Pulead and now a Lithium Americas Board Member takes us through extracting lithium from raw materials and making cathodes. Dr. Gao, or the “Lithium OG”, explains the concept of excess lithium and why it matters even more in a high nickel world. Dr. Dr. Rene LeBlanc of Lithium Americas explains how the process to separate lithium can be the reverse of how it’s formed, and shares how the physical separation process for the sedimentary material at Thacker Pass is like the process for extracting gold.. Dan Blondal of Nano One explains the different purposes served by cobalt, as a stabilizer of layered nickel structure or active material in LCO batteries.

We give a shout out to the Real Clear Politics discussion of Minerals: The Overlooked Foundations of our Future, where Emily was a panelist and felt like she knew the cool kids when Alexi Zawadski and Thacker Pass were name dropped by Carl Cannon, Executive Editor & Washington Bureau Chief of RealClearPolitics, as a carbon-neutral project.

Our guests close with what they experience as most misunderstood lithium myths, and as always we end with rapid fire questions.

https://www.realclearpolitics.com/topic/in_the_news/the_overlooked_foundation_of_our_future/

https://nanoone.ca/

https://www.lithiumamericas.com/

https://pulead.diytrade.com/

In a dramatic first episode of season three of the Global Lithium Podcast, Joe and Emily start off by discussing social unrest in Chile and electoral change in Argentina. We are joined by former podcast guest Daniel Jimenez to give us a boots on the ground view of what is happening in Chile, and Emily weighs on on what Macri’s loss will mean for lithium in Argentina. Joe gives his thoughts on Tianqi – specifically regarding  Tianqi’s comment that short supply from the Greenbushes mine in Australia impacted their quarterly results. Next he moves on to Albemarle and the continued poor performance at La Negra in Chile. 

We head across the Andes to Argentina and weigh in on Posco’s recent “inspection” of the Korean company’s project on the Salar de Hombre Muerto, and use the conversation to segway into what’s happening at Galaxy – and what their future may hold.

We discuss over-hyped news that Rio Tinto is entering the lithium space, given their project is reprocessing tailings from production of another product and the expected output is marginal. We wonder aloud why a mining major is starting so small. 

Despite the current pricing conditions, the hype over projects alleged to be “the sistine chapel of lithium” or “preparing for world battery metal domination” hasn’t died off, and end the serious discussion by reviewing a big bank report that contemplates if the bottom of the lithium market is at hand.

The episode closes with some rapid fire questions.

Don’t miss Joe’s new “no fuss” Global Lithium Q&A Podcast, where he will be giving feedback on upcoming quarterly results calls.

Joe and Emily recorded the 50th episode of the podcast from their respective home locations of Charlotte, North Carolina and Buenos Aires, Argentina.

In this short “podcastiversay” episode, the podcast team re-lives some of the highlights from favorite episodes before getting down to business. They discuss a prevalent topic of Joe’s “expert calls” where investors ask him if lithium chemical and stock prices are at “the bottom” and when investor sentiment will change. Of course that question is not easy to answer but we do provide food for thought and, as always finish with rapid fire questions.

In a smashing season finale double episode, The Global Lithium Podcast team joins Livent CEO Paul Graves in his home to chat about life, lithium, and Livent. Paul gives us his background from a small town in England, and Joe and Paul share their experiences as expats in multiple countries and cultures. They focus on the danger of becoming a “citizen of nowhere” that can lead companies to be distanced from customers, employees, and governments. 

Joe gets to the heart of Livent’s relationship with FMC, Paul provides insight into the pre and post FMC Lithium business, including clarifying that to customers, the lithium business is and will continue to be a specialty chemicals business—despite a deep desire from investors for the simplicity of a commodity business.

Paul shares his thoughts on the role of a modern CEO and his responsibility to balance short term earnings pressure with looking ahead at investing to be able to deliver what customer’s need. The EV revolution is driven by innovation and to a lesser extent public policy. Consumers increasingly value products that can deliver green transportation, safely and economically. For a lithium producer, that means viewing their product as a performance chemical.

Joe and Paul chat about supply, demand and customer behavior noting that in times of supply shortages, buyers’ qualification times and processes get quite a bit more flexible. The discussion moves to product mix and the infamous hydroxide vs. carbonate debate, and the importance of keeping a product offering that serves Livent’s client base. Emily and Joe conclude part one by asking Paul about how he sees the market coming together, including his views on China, subsidies, and infrastructure.

In a smashing season finale double episode, The Global Lithium Podcast team joins Livent CEO Paul Graves in his home to chat about life, lithium, and Livent. Paul gives us his background from a small town in England, and Joe and Paul share their experiences as expats in multiple countries and cultures. They focus on the danger of becoming a “citizen of nowhere” that can lead companies to be distanced from customers, employees, and governments.

Joe gets to the heart of Livent’s relationship with FMC, Paul provides insight into the pre and post FMC Lithium business, including clarifying that to customers, the lithium business is and will continue to be a specialty chemicals business—despite a deep desire from investors for the simplicity of a commodity business.

Paul shares his thoughts on the role of a modern CEO and his responsibility to balance short term earnings pressure with looking ahead at investing to be able to deliver what customer’s need. The EV revolution is driven by innovation and to a lesser extent public policy. Consumers increasingly value products that can deliver green transportation, safely and economically. For a lithium producer, that means viewing their product as a performance chemical.

Joe and Paul chat about supply, demand and customer behavior noting that in times of supply shortages, buyers’ qualification times and processes get quite a bit more flexible. The discussion moves to product mix and the infamous hydroxide vs. carbonate debate, and the importance of keeping a product offering that serves Livent’s client base. Emily and Joe conclude part one by asking Paul about how he sees the market coming together, including his views on China, subsidies, and infrastructure.

https://twitter.com/globallithium/status/1165999735209168896

In the final episode recorded from Santiago, Chile, at the Fastmarkets Lithium Conference, Joe and Emily sit down with Alison Dai, director of Chengdu Chemphys. While Chemphys may be unknown to many who follow the lithium industry due to it’s deep specialization in high purity products, Joe introduces the company as a strong Chinese competitor to FMC.

Alison shares her multicultural heritage, and tells the podcast’s hosts about her life growing up in Australia, beginning her career in investment banking, and then taking the decision to return to China and join the family business in 2015, including getting her Mandarin Chinese up to scratch. She and Joe illuminate Emily as to the meaning of “high purity” lithium, and who needs to buy it. Spoiler alert: It’s electrolyte makers! High purity lithium is called four 9’s or five 9’s, referring to the 99.99% or 99.999% purity that some applications require.

Alison the explains why in the mid 90s’ Chemphys decided rather than to enter the crowded technical grade industrial lithium market in China, that their niche would be high purity products. In today’s battery-driven world, Joe identifies the growing need for higher purity materials and the increasing applications for Chemphys processes allowing new ways to leverage processing expertise especially in the brine space.

Following on from E44 with Chloe Holzinger from Lux Research about innovation in the lithium space and the role of China, the three discuss the heterogeneity of China and how the Chinese culture of innovation favors the commercial scale of new technology applications by allowing companies to come online more quickly and adjust during commission vs. the more western “plan and pilot” model. On the China theme, Alison explains how access to financing from banks and government funds in China differs for state companies, big companies, and the smaller players.

The episode is rounded out with the usual rapid fire section, in which Alison teaches Joe and Emily to say prang in the Sichuan dialect and Mandarin, Joe and Alison bond over a shared love of athleisure wear, and Emily uses China as an excuse for being bad at Twitter.

https://twitter.com/globallithium/status/1159855766356054017
https://twitter.com/globallithium/status/1162175843856199689

Joe and Emily sit down with Lithium Americas geologist and volcanologist Tom Benson to learn about the origin of lithium. Tom also shares his origin story, passing through Harvard, MIT, Stanford, and Colombia to the fateful article in Nature magazine on the volcanic origins of lithium that landed him his role at Lithium Americas. 

Tom shares his passion for energy elements associated with volcanos because of the impact these minerals have on the world. Joe and Emily learn about super volcanos’ role in the formation of brine and pegmatite lithium deposits, and that lithium, like joe’s pizza preferences, can be found in areas with a thick crust – and unfortunately for Tom’s vacation preferences, not in Hawaii. Joe picks Tom’s brain on how the lithium leaches from volcanic material into brines and what patterns volcanic eruptions follow.

Tom shares his thoughts on the differences between industry and academia, and the lack of interest and resources in basic geological research in the United States among the younger generations. Joe brings up the topic of where the next wave of lithium projects are coming from, and the reality that an abundance of projects will never come on line because of where they are.

Joe and Tom share their discovery of the magic of coffee in recent years, and as always, the episode closes with rapid fire questions.

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.

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.

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:

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.