Peak Lithium: EVs’ Dirty Little Secret?

Electric vehicles web-journal EV World has done the English-speaking world a favor by translating an excellent Peak Lithium story written last week by Le Monde journalist Hervé Kempf. What is Peak Lithium you ask? The notion that a wholesale shift to EVs powered by lithium batteries in response to peaking petroleum production could just as quickly exhaust the global supply of lithium metal.

Kempf credits a May 2008 study by consultancy Meridian International Research — The Trouble with Lithium 2 — as the source of growing concern over peak lithium; the study concluded that reasonable increases in lithium production over the next decade will generate enough of the light, energetic metal to produce batteries for only 8 million batteries of the sort that GM plans to use in its Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid.

But he does his own homework, providing an accessible introduction to the geological distribution of lithium and its likely magnitude. I say ‘likely’ because Kempf shows that industrial secrecy makes it difficult to assess the probability of a peak lithium scenario prematurely squelching the electrification of the automobile.

As George Pichon, CEO of French metals trader Marsmétal puts it in Kempf’s piece, the world of a lithium metal is “un monde fermé.”

Alas, it’s just a little less closed today thanks to Le Monde and EV World.

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This post was created for Tech Talk – Insights into tomorrow’s technology from the editors of IEEE Spectrum.

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2 thoughts on “Peak Lithium: EVs’ Dirty Little Secret?

  1. persons interested in an overview of world lithium resources should read my 2 reports in http://www.worldlithium.com
    The first was recently published by “Industrial Minerals” and the second in Roskill’s Lithium Digest.
    Industrial Minerals is holding a conference on Lithium Supply and Markets in Santiago, Chile, 26-28th January 2009, in which the issue of reserves will be prominently featured.

  2. This just in via email from a trusted friend…

    A mole of lithium can store a Farad of electricity, or 96500 coulombs (26.8 ampere hours), or say 75 watt-hours at 3 volts. A car with a 15 kWhr battery will need 200 moles of lithium, or 1.4 kg. At $3000 a ton(ne), that’s $4.20 worth of Li, about what a gallon of gas cost this past summer. Get real! The price of Li would have to increase by a factor of 100 to be a limiting cost in battery manufacture.

    And did I mention that lithium can be recycled, just as lead is today?

    Peter O.

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