Growth of Clean Technologies – ( Solar Thermal Magazine)
The increasing commitment to laying renewable energy infrastructure is a noble cause that the global community is embracing. More countries are adopting the use of clean energy and are walking the talk by making the necessary energy behavior modification. Despite its relevance, it has come with its fair share of obstacles. Among the dominant challenges is the use of rare earth metals that form a critical component in running renewable technology.
For example, the question over the sustainability of lithium in its utility for batteries and electric cars has emerged as a serious debate. At the center of it is the question of the amount of lithium and whether lithium resources can provide a reliable supply of energy. In fact, the debate has divided professionals and the public into two antagonistic groups. On one hand, there are those who have questioned the actual rarity of lithium and therefore hold that the world has sufficient reserve of rare metals. On the other hand, there are those who argue that the demand for lithium will outstrip supply. The latter group wants the world to be more conscious and pragmatic in its supply of energy resources.
The Current Use of Lithium in Batteries and Electric Cars
Approximately 70 % of the world’s lithium comes from salt lakes (brine). The remaining percentage is derived from hard rock. In the year 2009, the world recorded 92, 000 metric tonnes of lithium. A study carried out by Talison Minerals identified the following percentages concerning the use of lithium: batteries (26 %), lubricants (15 %), glass (13 %), ceramics (10 %), pharmaceuticals (7 %), refrigeration (6 %), aluminium (3 %), Foundry (2 %), others (18 %). The major sources of lithium are mainly Bolivia, Argentina, Chile, Australia, and China.
There is a broad consensus that the current lithium supply to meet the energy demands of lithium. The major reason is that lithium does not have many applications and uses. In fact, lithium is used majorly in batteries. The other uses do not necessarily translate to high demand for the rare earth metal. Another reason is that the use of electric cars as a means of transport (which are highly dependent on lithium) is not yet a popular phenomena. In fact, there are people who are not informed or are not interested about the use of electric cars to meet their transport needs.
The Future Use of Lithium in Batteries and Electric Cars
There is all the likelihood that the demand for lithium energy resources will far much outweigh supply in the future. Take an ideal and a hypothetical situation where everyone will own an electric car. The scenario will mean high energy demands that will not be sustainable unless the world looks for alternative sources of the same.
The increase in demand over supply in the future use of lithium will translate to a number of challenges in the energy sector. To start with, there is no other sustainable energy material that can replace lithium at the moment. There is no hope for lithium replacement in the near future either.
Second, lithium deposits are extremely difficult to find and mine. Lastly, lithium is a product that can be recycled. However, the cost of recycling lithium is not sustainable compared to the cost of mining new deposits. Similarly, the quantity that one gets after recycling may not be worth it. South America has observed that thinking about recycling lithium may be inconsequential.
The Future of Lithium in Relation to Political and Socio-Economic Landscape
The increasing demand for lithium will have an impact on the political and socioeconomic phenomena of some countries. To justify this premise, analysts have employed empirical analysis and have come up with three possible outcomes. First, there will be shifting power bases regarding endowment of energy products. Whereas there are sufficient lithium resources in Afghanistan, the fact that the country has had a pathological tendency to conflict will be a great barrier to lithium mining in that country. Thus, the focus will no longer be in the Middle East but rather in South America. Consequently, countries such as United States will not have any option but to redefine their foreign policy and seek strategic alliances with South American countries.
Second, countries that have been struck by high levels of poverty to an extent of being pushed to the periphery of the global economy could have a change of fortunes to the better. For example, Bolivia could use production of lithium as a political card in order to claim more recognition in global affairs.
Lastly, China will become more aggressive in claiming its spot as a serious super power contender. Already, China has started to prepare for global influence in rare metals. It is doing this through limiting its exports on rare metals. Having reserves in Tibet will mean that it will use lithium for energy sufficiency and as an opportunity to seek global power opportunities. It should be noted that the lithium factor will mean that China is self sufficient but United States is energy dependent on other countries.
The use of lithium to provide energy for batteries and electric cars is still subject to investigation. The debate rages on. It is important that countries rethink on the best strategies of averting the lithium crisis should it occur in the future. Overall, the high demand for lithium will not match supply in the future.
Gordon's expertise in the area of industrial energy efficiency and alternative energy. He is an experienced electrical engineer with a Masters degree in Alternative Energy technology. He is the co-founder of several renewable energy media sites including Solar Thermal Magazine.