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Lithium Supplies

Page history last edited by PBworks 16 years, 12 months ago

ENERGIES...     week of April 22, 2007.

ELECTRIC VEHICLES AND PLUG-IN HYBRIDS:

A FUTURE HINGED ON LITHIUM.

For now, the future of battery electric and plug-in hybrid cars and

light trucks hinges on the availability of nature’s lightest solid

element: Lithium. For light vehicles battery packs need to be as light

as they can be. Light vehicles can’t carry around heavy batteries. No

other solid element on the planet can do the job. Lithium is it. Lithium

based batteries are the battery du jour.

(Heavy electric, hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles can get by with more

weighty battery chemistries, even lead acid, if necessary. The weight of

the batteries can more easily be compensated for with a lightening of

vehicle body and chassis components.)

As of the end of 2006 the US Geological Survey (USGS) estimated that the

world has lithium reserves of more than 13 million tons. This really

doesn’t sound like much given the tens if not hundreds of millions of

vehicles world wide that could make good use of lithium batteries to

energize electric and hybrid drive systems for much improved fuel

efficiency.

That said, news this week of a new mineral discovery in Serbia brings

some cautious hope that global lithium reserves could be larger than

thought.

First dubbed Kryptonite by a researcher at London’s Natural History

Museum (because it has the same chemical formula as the fictional

Superman-disabling mineral described in the film Superman Returns) the

mineral now to be known as Jadarite has significant amounts of lithium

in its chemical make-up.

Rio Tinto, the mining group that discovered Jadarite (and named it after

Jadar, the location of the mine), will determine if quantities are large

enough to have commercial value. Keep your fingers crossed.

For the record, lithium production in 2006 was about 21,000 tons. Chile

was the largest producer with more than 8300 tons mined. Argentina,

China, Russia and the United States are also major producers. Lithium is

found in small amounts in most hard rocks, but most lithium is extracted

from subsurface brines - water saturated with salts. Lithium is of

course recyclable. And, according to the USGS, recycled lithium, from

the recycling of lithium batteries, is just beginning to show up on the

radar screen.

For electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids to succeed, lithium-based

batteries must get much cheaper. In part, for that to happen, lithium

itself must also get much cheaper, which means it must be extracted in

very large quantities. Improved manufacturing processes as well as

improved chemistries will contribute, too, to the reduction in the cost

of lithium batteries.

There are vehicles waiting in the wings ready to incorporate lithium

battery packs: Toyota’s next generation Prius; Saturn’s plug-in Vue

Green Line; Chevrolet’s promised Volt. Small companies, too, are in need

of less expensive lithium batteries: Tesla Motors for its all electric

roadster and upcoming sedan; Phoenix Motorcars for its all electric

Sport Utility Truck and a plug-in hybrid version of the same to be

developed with UQM Technologies.

Further, more than just greatly increased energy economy, electric

vehicles and plug-in hybrids could store then put to work off-peak power

from baseload power plants that is now generated but not sold. Putting

that now-wasted energy to work would displace other energy sources -

such as gasoline - and eliminate their related emissions.

Increasingly there’s a heavy burden weighing on nature’s lightest solid

element.

 

Bruce Milliken

 

bmulliken@green-energy-news.com

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