Lithium has a number of uses but one of the most valuable is as a component of high energy-density rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. Because of concerns over carbon dioxide footprint and increasing hydrocarbon fuel cost (reduced supply), lithium may become even more important in large batteries for powering all-electric and hybrid vehicles. It would take 1.4 to 3.0 kilograms of lithium equivalent (7.5 to 16.0 kilograms of lithium carbonate) to support a 40-mile trip in an electric vehicle before requiring recharge. This could create a large demand for lithium. Estimates of future lithium demand vary, based on numerous variables. Some of those variables include the potential for recycling, widespread public acceptance of electric vehicles, or the possibility of incentives for converting to lithium-ion-powered engines. Increased electric usage could cause electricity prices to increase. Because of reduced demand, hydrocarbon fuel prices would likely decrease, making hydrocarbon fuel more desirable.
In 2009, 13 percent of worldwide lithium reserves, expressed in terms of contained lithium, were reported to be within hard rock mineral deposits, and 87 percent, within brine deposits. Most of the lithium recovered from brine came from Chile, with smaller amounts from China, Argentina, and the United States. Chile also has lithium mineral reserves, as does Australia. Another source of lithium is from recycled batteries. When lithium-ion batteries begin to power vehicles, it is expected that battery recycling rates will increase because vehicle battery recycling systems can be used to produce new lithium-ion batteries.
First posted January 26, 2012
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Goonan, T.G., 2012, Lithium use in batteries: U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1371, 14 p., available at http://pubs.usgs.gov/circ/1371/.
Lithium Consumption Statistics
Effect of Electric and Hybrid Cars on Lithium Demand
Estimates of Future Lithium Demand
Lithium Carbonate Prices
Lithium Battery Outlook