When lithium-ion pioneers M. Stanley Whittingham, Adam Heller, Michael Thackeray, and of course, John Goodenough were in the initial stages of the technology’s development in the 1970s through the late 1980s, there was no clear idea of just how monumental the lithium-based battery would come to be. Even up to a few years ago, the idea of an electric vehicle or renewable grid dependent on lithium-ion technology seemed like a pipe dream. But now, electric vehicles are making their way to the mainstream and with them comes the commercially-driven race to acquire lithium.
Just look at the rise of Tesla and success of the Nissan LEAF. Not only are these cars speaking to a real concern for environmental protection, they’re also becoming the more affordable option in transportation. For example, the LEAF goes for less than $25,000 and gets more than 80 miles per charge. Plus, electric vehicles can currently run on electricity that’s costing around $0.11 per kWh, which is roughly equivalent to $0.99 per gallon. The last year alone saw a 60 percent spike in the sale of electric vehicles.
“Electric cars are just plain better,” says James Fenton, director of the Florida Solar Energy Center and newly appointed ECS Secretary. “They’re cheaper to buy up front and they’re cheaper to operate, which years ago, was not the case.”
All things considered, lithium may just be the number one commodity of our time.
But this movement is not specific to the U.S. alone. In Germany – a country dedicated to a renewable future – there is a mandate that all new cars in the country will have to be emission-free by 2030. Similarly in Norway, the government is looking to ban gasoline-powered cars by 2025.
So with the transportation sector heading away from gasoline-powered cars and toward lithium battery-based vehicles globally, what will that do to lithium supplies?
This from USA Today:
Market consumption could triple from 160,000 metric tons to a staggering 470,000 metric tons by 2025. And even if the EV market share increased by only 1%, it would raise lithium demand by 70,000 metric tons — which is about half of today’s demand.
Even Elson Musk previously stated that if Tesla were to develop half a million cars per year, that would essentially eat up the world’s lithium-ion production.
According to the USA Today, the future of lithium transportation will heavily depend on who can get their hands on the limited lithium supplies first.