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23 responses to “Where on Earth will all the Lithium come from?”

    • Ted Marynicz

      Strange, as I was looking into this very same issue a month or so ago.

      The real question is: what is the quality of the ore that can be extracted and at what cost – both in terms of price and energy required to extract and process it?

      The point being that lower quality ore gets exponentially more expensive to process as the % content goes down. It’s not just about the raw numbers.

    • Justin Noe

      I’m honored that you have dedicated so much blog space to this issue. The figures you quote appear to answer all the fears raised and I sincerely hope you are right. I think it’s important to question every new technology so that we don’t repeat past mistakes. I guess my next big question is do you think Lithium can become as cheap as oil once was? Although the dirty hydrocarbon had many drawbacks it’s one sucker punch was that joe public could enjoy it’s benifits. We all became richer because it was so accessable. Will Lithium?

    • Simon Moores

      Ted is correct it isnt just about the raw numbers.

      And the published numbers which has been scrutinised thus are also not good enough to give a defintive answer to the li-ion debate.

      People have only really looked into lithium over the past three years – it is now that companies are scrambling for new deposits,and doing resource calculations.

      The only good resource data is from the established players (of which there are few: SQM,Talison, Chemetall, FMC.

      The reserve calaculations for the untouched deposits are from the 60s and 70s, dated and inaccurate comapred with today’s means and needs.

      At the moment, more li carbonate supply is coming online, the car manufqacturers are simply talking about li consumption but not taking it. In 3 years time we shall see…

      All will be discussed at the Lithium Supply & Markets conference in Chile, 26 Jan 09 –

      should give us a clearer picture at least

    • Chris

      In my opinion, the recycling of Lithium batteries could prove critical. Regardless of how much there is to mine, the process would produce excessive chemical waste if we were not to reuse the batteries or components of. So methods of recycling need to be closely researched and incorporated into the business plan where possible.

      The more I learn about this, the more it sounds like you need to sell a ‘sustainable transport package’ rather than just an electric car. I mean the whole caboodle – the car, the green electricity to charge it, the recycling service, and also the opportunity to invest in new green energy projects.

    • Ian Hughes

      I’m no expert but for a year or two now I’ve been scratching y head as to why hydrogen cells are being pursued with such vigour and touted as the future when quite clearly, battery power is.

      Does anyone know why Industry seems to avoid talking battery?

    • Chris Goff

      Remember that Lithium exists in the crust in various forms, and in inaccessible places. There are 145 minerals containing Lithium as a major component, but only 25 with >.002%. Therefore, there are relatively limited sources of commercially viable ore. Those sources will need to be in accessible areas, which mean places with transportation infrastructure, and at an acceptable depth. The continental crust is about 40 km thick on average, but we can only mine down a few kilometers.

      The upshot is that lithium reserves may be a serious concern. Add in the fact that much of the proven reserves are in Russia, China, Zaire, etc.– the same areas causing political problems for other resources, and it becomes a worrying situation.


    • Michael C

      It seems that there is enough Lithium in the world to mine. But will it be enough to go around? Remember that Lithium batteries wear out in about 2 or 3 years (if used) so how much of the stuff will be in the recycle process every 2 or 3 years?

      In 3 years (if 900 million cars could be made with batteries) 900 million cars will need new batteries. (the only technology that could reduce the wear on batteries is pairing them with ultra capacitors)

    • Mark Loveridge

      Hi Ian,

      The Reason that Hydrogen is still being developed at such a rate is because it still requires a distribution network. this means Oil companies will still have fueling stations and the need to move fuel around and manage sites etc. Its a corporate thing!
      Batteries are the future, the next step are hybrid batteries, Lithium mated with super capacitors.
      Watch this space, the next few years are going to be very exciting!

    • Chris

      Hey Ian,

      Check out the documentary ‘Who killed the electric car’. From what I hear electric cars have been around for the best part of a couple of hundred years in some crude form. My dad always complains that they’ve had electric milk floats since he was a kid! So I think it’s a very valid question to ask why we have not persued this technology more aggressively.

      One factor I keep hearing that battery powered vehicles are relatively low maintanence. The battery being the main thing to replace. This would I’m sure mean millions in lost revenue for car/parts manufacturers and their garages. The govt. could attempt to stimulate this type of R&D, but then where would they get their tens of billions in oil revenue from?! I suspect it comes down to a web of economics related reasons!

    • Jeffrey Lam

      One point not mentioned so far is that EVs will have to compete for lithium ion with mobile phones, laptops etc. We haven’t considered how many other electrical devices also need lithium ion for their batteries. I imagine their could be far, far more mobile phones being made than vehicles, although phone batteries will not need as much Lithium Carbonate as an EV battery.

    • Richard

      The economic conspiracy theory is not valid in this discussion for many reasons.

      Yes electric cars have been around for as long as steam cars and petrol cars but they died out for a reason, it was cheaper and easier to make IC engines not mention they were a lot more fun!

      Electric cars will only flourish if there is either no reasonable alternative and/or if they are marketable to the public. I love the idea of a Lotus based electric sports car as it appeals to the petrolhead in me. The limitation has always been POWER and refuelling. if I’m going on a 1,000 mile business trip over 3 or 4 days, I need to know I can refuel easily and quickly and at the moment that rules out electrics.

      I’m watching this project with great interest

    • Trevor Powr

      I’m surprised that you’re going with Lithium Carbonate – as I understand it, this is mostly used to treat manic depression and other mood disorders.

      I’ve had some experience in assessing battery technologies (for electric powered delivery trucks). I found that although Lithium Cobalt Oxide cells have the highest energy density (up to about 180Wh/Kg) and might be great for toys/image driven products like the Tesla, the lifetime economics suck for city vehicle/commuter applications compared to Lithium Iron Phosphate. Although the phosphate chemistry has a little over half the energy density of the cobalt and costs a little more, you can expect about 8 times the life (up to 3000+ charge cycles, compared to 4-500). Plus its much much safer and a bit greener from a chemical point of view too. The other main contenders – Manganese Oxide and Tri-element (Ni Mn Co) fit somewhere between the ones I’ve mentioned.

    • Jonny

      This might cause anyone who thinks “we can use lithium to perpetuate our current power hungry lifestyle – so that’s OK” to start to worry:

      An inescapable fact is that, with fossil fuels our utter dependency is as much of a problem as the climate change aspect. Such a significant proportion deriving from just one region of the globe merely compounds our hostage status. Diversification and not having all our eggs in one basket is the key to a future – any future. To pin all our hopes on any one technology, and particularly on any one geographical area, is akin to the madness that has got us where we are today.

      Hydrogen is regarded by some as the longer term viable alternative to lithium battery technology. It has significant problems, not least of all storage difficulties – it will leak out of just about any container, eventually. However, it has one truly unbeatable quality, which is that its source (water) is so widely available in almost all regions on the world. With a significant part of the global fuel and power market no longer able to be used as a political lever, the democratisation of sustainable transport might actually become possible.

      If the hydrogen we need for road transport can be electrolysed from water using dedicated renewable generation capacity, close to the point of use / sale, a decentralised hydrogen (and lithium) economy can really get going. It cannot be one or the other – it has got to be both.

      How about wind-powered fuelling stations able not only to recharge hydrogen tanks for fuel cell cars (locally sourced hydrogen as well), but also charge lithium batteries for battery electric cars?

      Who knows, perhaps the familiar BP / Shell / Esso branding of our roadside environment could in time be replaced by “Ecotricity” – or perhaps “Zerocarbonista”? Or perhaps the point should be to wean ourselves off all such messages of soviet- style centralisation.

    • Diarmaid O Seigefriede

      Great stuff hope everything works. I am not an expert for large battery solution but use many smaller types for high speed 150MPH plus model planes and also slower model planes and we seriously abuse all batteries types . The Lithium Cobalt Oxide we use which are the latest and greatest types are still the lightest cells and will recharge in best very best case ~20 minutes (but often more like ~30 minutes ) However they would be really ~500 cycles tops and are fragile dont deplete to 100% or you kill them .They can make a big explosive fire similar to petrol if they ignite with 1/8 the power of TNT .They are a safety issue to consider .I don’t know any Lithium Cobalt Oxide that can do 1200 cycles to 80% so can you supply the name of this manufactuer and how many MHA each cell is.
      There may exist new types which I don’t know about The Lithium Iron Phosphate although new to the market and less energy density have proved to often be extremely robust can be depleted to 100% and return long cycle lifes 2000 plus and can recharge in ~15 minutes or less ( with a suitable charger ).For ground use where weight is less of an issue with rapid chargers they have proved to about 80% the capasity of Lithium Cobalt Oxide as the Lithium Cobalt Oxide needs to stop at 80% to protect it cycle life .Lithium Iron Phosphate is extremly safe from fire issues where Lithium Cobalt Oxide is generaly not so safe from fire issues

      Thanks keep on trucking

      Diarmaid O Seigefriede

    • Jeffrey Lam

      In case anyone’s wondering, it means (literally):
      new-gold/metal/money-bottle-plum tree/plum blossom/plum-2-online-watch

      So I think the sentence means “New Money (something) 2 Watch Online”

        • paul

          I was wondering… is that a spambot then?

            • Jeffrey Lam

              I’m not sure, but probably. The content of the link seems unrelated to this post, or anything on this site.

              The gist of the document in the link says something about sons who inherit their father’s money and go on to live a life of excess. There is a link to a video on a Chinese video sharing website, but the video is not there.

              The “related content” underneath points to legal matters, probably reflecting the contents of the document.

            • Jeffrey Lam

              aha! Found out the user who shared the document, and the user has a website: Sanmen Flyhigh Rubber & Plastics Co., Ltd. who are a company who seem to do everything related to mats: door mats, car mats, car floor mats, bath mats…

            • Jeffrey Lam

              speaking of spambots, do you mean like “cindee daniel” who commented on Wind Car – News Flash? And The Wind Car – Epsiode 10 of 6? And like “Afe” on The Wind Car – Episode 6 of 6? And “Chilton” on The Wind Car is on its way – Part 1? I think they all arrived while you were on holiday… Although the comments do seem vaguely related to the posts…