• There's lithium in them thar hills...

  • Pertaining to all railroading subjects, past and present, in New England
Pertaining to all railroading subjects, past and present, in New England

Moderators: MEC407, NHN503

  by MEC407
Here's something I didn't have on my 2021 bingo card:

The richest lithium deposit in the world has been discovered in Maine:
The Maine Monitor wrote:NEWRY — The richest known hard rock lithium deposit in the world lies a few miles northeast of the ski slopes of Sunday River and not far from Step Falls, where swimmers can wade in shallow pools formed by hundreds of feet of cascading granite ledge.

Smaller deposits have been known in Maine for decades, but this recent discovery, just north of Plumbago Mountain in Newry, is the first to have a major resource potential.

And that potential is staggering: At current market prices, the deposit, thought to contain 11 million tons of ore, is valued at roughly $1.5 billion.
. . .
“This is going to be a very important source of lithium in the future,” said Dr. William “Skip” Simmons, a mineralogist at the University of New Orleans and co-author on a recent paper describing the findings.
. . .
Lithium is prized because it is lightweight and can store lots of energy, making it an important component in batteries for electric vehicles and as reservoirs for excess energy generated by wind turbines and solar panels. Demand for lithium-ion batteries is expected to grow between five- and 10-fold by the end of the decade, and the world must ramp up production quickly to move away from fossil fuels.
Link to full article: https://www.themainemonitor.org/stagger ... challenge/

Assuming the political hurdles can be overcome, I wonder how all that lithium would be transported to wherever it needs to go.

There are no active rail lines abutting Plumbago Mountain, but the mountain is tantalizingly close to the St. Lawrence & Atlantic mainline and the Pan Am Rumford Branch. Depending on which highways they used, the mountain is either 16 miles or 11 miles by truck to the SLR mainline in Bethel. It's about 18 miles by truck to the PAR Rumford Branch in Rumford.

Bethel is closer, but my gut tells me Rumford would be more receptive to an industrial operation of this size and scale.
  by JBlaisdell
I doubt it will ever be exploited. Mining and refining lithium is environmentally controversial, to say the least. There is no way it would ever be allowed in Maine, which has fought against LNG terminals and is currently battling over a power line to bring Canadian hydro to New England.
  by wally
the hydro is destined for southern new england, not maine. that could well be one of the primary reasons so many are opposed to it (and why so many in new hampshire were opposed to the same). if the lithium were being at least somewhat processed in maine, it would seem to offer some decent employment opportunity for a long time, unlike the hydro project.
  by kitchin
Some organization claims to have a new, much nicer way to mine and refine Li. You never know with green energy claims. Or energy claims in general.
  by ExCon90
I don't know anything about lithium ore: specifically, what is the volume of ore necessary to obtain enough for one battery? Would unit trains be required to haul it to a refining facility to render it usable, or could you carry enough in your coat pocket to power NYCTA for a month? Presumably somewhere in between ... Also, is it toxic as it comes from the ground and is being transported?

There's a hazmat guide published by either the AAR or maybe in the Code of Federal Regulations that gives all this information, but I can't remember what it's called, let alone where to find it. Maybe someone on here uses it regularly and could look it up.
  by backroadrails
There is no way it will be mined here. The company I work for, has been waiting for 12 years for a quarry permit, for a tract of land away from any residences. And even after 12 years, the permit application just moved to the review phase, which will still be 5-10 years (if approved) before we would be able to start blasting.
  by MEC407
Does that quarry have $1.5 billion worth of material in it that everyone on the entire planet is desperate for? :wink:

Don't underestimate the power of money to make things happen.
  by bostontrainguy
From the New York Times:

Electric cars and renewable energy may not be as green as they appear. Production of raw materials like lithium, cobalt and nickel that are essential to these technologies are often ruinous to land, water, wildlife and people.

Not to mention that most electricity used to power these cars is generated by fossil fuels. Maybe we need to rethink this whole thing?
  by JBlaisdell
wally wrote: Sat Oct 30, 2021 2:21 pm the hydro is destisned for southern new england, not maine. that could well be one of the primary reasons so many are opposed to it (and why so many in new hampshire were opposed to the same).
The grid is not isolated. More cheap power benefits everyone and lessens the demand for oil and natural gas throughout the region.
  by JBlaisdell
bostontrainguy wrote: Sun Oct 31, 2021 8:26 am Maybe we need to rethink this whole thing?
Exactly. Watch how fast lithium becomes vilified.
  by MEC407
Back to the transportation-related question at hand:

If this lithium deposit is mined (let's table the question of whether or not it will be mined), where is it most likely to go, and how is it most likely to be transported there?
  by bostontrainguy
China? Probably via the Suez canal.
  by BandA
Look for the Chinese to try to buy their land! And the tax assessor may be their biggest danger. According to the article, there are zero active large metal mines in Maine. The law on metal mines is to prevent toxic contamination from heavy metals and acid-releasing rock. But this Lithium ore is stable. Sounds like they are presently running it as a boutique gem-type mine.

The owners said in the article they would want to ship the ore (apparently LiAlSiO2) offsite for processing. Would only work as an open-pit mine > 3 acres which is illegal in Maine.

Lithium Ion batteries wear out, and presently very little lithium is recycled! The electrolyte in the batteries is very toxic when burned.
  by BandA
bostontrainguy wrote: Sun Oct 31, 2021 10:41 am China? Probably via the Suez canal.
I think there is some lithium battery manufacturing in this country. I assume Tesla is the only domestic company, all the others are probably Chinese or Korean owned. So if this lithium is mined, it would only make sense to refine it in the US or Canada. There would probably be customers looking to snap up the lithium.

I've read that the cost of lithium batteries has been falling, but the cost of nickel metal hydride batteries cannot go down because nickel is expensive.
  by Ridgefielder
There is about to be a *lot* more battery manufacturing in the US. For example, https://media.ford.com/content/fordmedi ... icles.html; https://www.freep.com/story/money/cars/ ... 293394001/

I have no idea what the permitting process is in Maine. However, unlike a 180-mile-long 120kV power line, a mine would only impact the immediate surroundings.

As to where it would be processed, or how-- there you've got me. My understanding is that the ore itself is basically just rocks-- its not toxic. My completely uneducated guess is that there would be some sort of preliminary processing in state then the stuff would be railed somewhere else for conversion to the lithium needed for batteries.

The proximity to the Rumford Branch is interesting given the pending sale of PAR to CSX and the longstanding relationships between the Detroit Three and the Class I's.
Last edited by MEC407 on Mon Nov 08, 2021 5:41 pm, edited 1 time in total. Reason: unnecessary quoting